Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Old technology in class

On the back of Ewan's post about the latest manifestation of the construction toy Lego, this is the lesson I devised way back when Standard Grade English was new and different and we had to devise means of providing integrated occasions for Talk assessment and Transactional Writing (always dodgy in that it seemed all too easy to lapse into Creative Writing and lose one of the requirements for the dreaded Folio). Interestingly, this lesson was part of a unit we called The Technology Unit, subtitled Men and Machines.

I bought five of the small Lego model sets, each making a different little vehicle, complete with driver/operative. In order to do away with the illustration on the boxes, I got the techy department to provide me with neat little wooden containers with sliding lids - this went down strangely well all round. In these went the sets and their leaflets, each with the set of diagrams representing each stage in the building of the model.

The class split into five groups. Two at a time, they sat back to back, one with the Lego bricks and a desk to work on, one with the leaflet of instructions. It was the job of the one with the leaflet to translate the pictures into words and instruct the builder how to make the model. This involved them in searching for the best word for the studs, beams, bricks and so on, and in expressing as clearly as possible how they were to be aligned.

The rest of the group watched and listened, noting what made for effective communication - or complete disaster - and waiting for their turn. It was interesting that not all benefited from coming later in the exercise; perhaps the fact that the models were destroyed and then moved on to the next group after each building helped to maintain the level of difficulty. When the spoken exercise was over and assessed - lots of jinking around on the part of the teacher - the class then wrote a report on the experience as they had observed it.

Every class I did this with loved the exercise - there was a great deal of hilarity - and were keen to write it up afterwards, often producing reports which showed considerable insight into the process. It was a good introduction to transactional writing of an original kind, and gave the the satisfaction of having two solid grades at the very beginning of the S grade course.

I'd forgotten about this until reading Ewan's post today; he tells me no-one would know how to play this game from the comment I left on it, so here you are - old-fashioned technology!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Propping up the kirk?

Propping up the kirk?
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
St John's Church in the centre of Dunoon has recently grown a cage of scaffolding, closing the road beside the church and causing much speculation among the populace. Apparently the church was built in such a hurry - as a result, perhaps, of The Disruption - that no proper foundations were laid. Now, apparently, the building is starting to slide down the hill, and the large stained glass windows just visible behind the scaffolding have begun to buckle out of alignment.

It looks like a huge job - how on earth do you stabilise a large buidling with scaffolding? It will also be horrendously expensive - the figure of £3million has been mentioned - but Historic Scotland have stepped in and apparently the money is in place.

Makes you think.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Catching fire?

Pentecost. The descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, 2,000 years ago. And, we hope, on us, renewing us – firing us up, in fact, to refer back to yesterday’s post. We had an interesting sermon on that this morning, noting how these first Christians had to share their good news with a Jewish crowd there to celebrate something else. We thought about the excitement that must have rippled through that crowd, and how it doesn’t always seem that way now. And I thought about yesterday, and how people do still catch fire if they feel free to do so. There are many constraints still in church life; some of them are to do with our personal inhibitions and some are imposed by the church itself, and by people being unwilling to take risks, and by the fear of overstepping the boundaries.

We had a visiting family today – an extended family from Hyderabad in India - in the UK to visit a son who is working here. They must’ve been frozen – when they left home the temperature was 49 degrees, and in Dunoon this morning it was all of 10 degrees – but they were obviously delighted with the service and the warm welcome. (Don’t know about the smell of melting carpet when there was a mishap with the thurible – but perhaps it was all part of the warmth bit). They were spending the holiday weekend in Argyll, and had looked on the internet for a church they could attend – and found us. Things are looking up, if we no longer have to rely solely on visitors sighting the church from the ferry. They told us that there is a congregation of 4.000 in their church, who meet in a building about the same size as ours but sit on the floor – and then go home and proclaim the gospel through a megaphone, and hold house meetings to tell their (Hindu) neighbours, who are apparently converting in droves.

When they left, I wondered to one of them – a girl of about 15, I think – if we’d ever see them again. “We will meet in Heaven,” she said, firmly. And I felt we’d had a sense of what that first Pentecost had been like, after all.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Fired up

Provincial Ultreya
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Just home from a Cursillo gathering in Falkirk, I realise how important meetings like this are for the health of the church - and for individual Christians. Just as the TeachMeet in Edinburgh revived my enthusiasm for teaching, because I met with people buzzing with excitement for the new ideas they are trying out, so this meeting of Christians from all over Scotland has, once again, revived my enthusiasm for the whole idea of corporately living the message of the Gospels.

Cursillo doesn't suit everyone as a way to rejuvenate their faith, but it is a matter of disappointment to me that there are church people prepared to condemn the organisation on the basis of ignorance and hearsay. It is especially discouraging to lay people when the ones doing the condemning are professionals, who can seem to put personal prejudice before the possible benefit to their flocks.

However, this evening I feel hopeful again - because I've spent the day with people who were filled with joy, who were not being sceptical or disapproving of one another, who shared hopes and fears, disappointments and successes with one another and who joined in the closing Eucharist with total commitment. We relit some torches today.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Very trying.

This is a first attempt at moblogging in view of the unwired nature of our Synod. It is very laborious.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Get a life!

Why I'm blogging instead of getting tore into the olives and bread that have just arrived on the table, I don't know - other than because Neil has his mac and I'm at the kind of happening when people do this sort of thing. We're in Centotre, a lovely Italian restaurant on George Street in Edinburgh, and it has wifi and it seems a shame not to use it.

Anyway, this is TeachMeet07, and it took me 4 hours to get here, and people are pouring in to join us and if I don't stop soon and eat and olive I'll miss out. And if I try to blog after eating olives Neil will never let me near his Mac again, so better not. The wine is red, the conversation wired, and dinner has been ordered.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Ugly sisters only

So Bishop Gene Robinson won't be invited to Lambeth 08? Great. What sort of message does that send to the wide, uncaring world? Always assuming that the non-Anglican world can summon up the interest to take any notice of this news item. And then there are the people who do care, passionately, and who feel marginalised yet again, and the people who care passionately and feel scunnered.

I come into that last category. I use the word "scunnered" because of my origins and because it's absolutely the right word for the moment. After a day spent reading the papers for the forthcoming Synod I found myself wondering why I bother. This sort of politicking has nothing to do with the faith that illuminates my life, and seems to have very little to do with the injunction to love one another.

All this desperate holding on to unity at all costs tells me one thing: the cost is too high. And the exclusion of even one properly consecrated bishop from the party means that unity has gone already. Or am I somehow missing something clever?

Monday, May 21, 2007


Originally uploaded by Edublogger.
I'm taking myself off to Edinburgh to socialise with a bunch of people, mostly male, mostly far younger than I am, all still working, who know far more about Web 2.0 technology than I'll ever know. Why do I bother?

Mainly because they appear still to be alive, that's why. In my last years at work I became depressed by the lack of enthusiasm for teaching displayed by relatively young colleagues, and the growing cynicism which made the expression of enthusiasm unlikely unless you were old and conceited. Like me.

I may or may not learn anything at this gig. But I shall find something of interest, meet up with some new people as well as others whom I really only know online, and feel reassured that there are some areas of teaching which are alive and well and firing on all cylinders. AB feels this will be a day of preaching to the converted - but it's important for the converted to have the chance to confirm one another in what they do. The unwired wilderness is still quite a big country.

Besides, the food part looks promising ...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Tea in the park with a difference

Crowds 1
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Well, that was interesting. Rather like a wedding reception – an alarming number of people we knew, as well as several familiar faces we couldn’t quite place. Except, of course, that most of us don’t have HRH the Duke of York at our weddings, let alone the men in strange hats. In a way, these gentlemen were quite a highlight – tall fellows with extraordinary feathered tall hats, carrying sticks over their shoulders – presumably to beat off the importunate guest or – perish the thought – worse.

After leaving Dunoon in a gale, with the rain pelting down and a temperature as we came off the ferry of only 5 degrees, the sun and more-or-less dryness of Edinburgh came as a great relief. There was still quite a wind gusting round, flapping the marquee and tearing unwise hats from the heads of the godly – for this, remember, was the Garden Party to mark the opening of the Kirk’s General Assembly. The dress code for the event had obviously meant whatever came up your back (or onto it, for that matter), so we saw the lot: Highland dress (on Scots, on visiting American clergy), go-to-wedding polyester in assorted pastels, uniforms (military, clerical), morning suits, trench coats, capes – and even an anorak or two. The best hats were on the heads of men – the feathered jobs on the Prince’s minders, the bandsmen, and a wonderful fedora or two. And at least one bowler hat.

The food was small, dainty, toothsome, delicate, crustless. The tea was, sadly, Indian and powerful; I managed to tutor a charming waitress in the art of watering it down to palatability. The bands were lovely – a regimental band and a pipe band who played, inter alia, the music from The Last of the Mohicans. I wondered if this was significant.
The band played on

We wandered on the incredible grass, looked into the ruined Abbey Church, enjoyed simply being close up to The palace of Holyroodhouse. We hobnobbed with bishops and a former Moderator, whom we knew long before he was anything like so well- known. When the rain threatened we made a beeline for the marquee, and we made a foray to the tastefully-appointed, if temporary, loos when we needed a heat (hah - caught you!)
Minder with hat.

It was all good clean fun, even if the closest I got to Prince Andrew was to lean my phone on a tall hatted-one's shoulder. He looks much as he did, but older. Just like the rest of us, in fact.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Garden party animals

I'm off to mingle with the great and the (unco) good tomorrow, at a garden party at the Palace of Holyrood. The weather doesn't look as if it's been told in time - so I hope there are plenty of tents around in which to huddle. This makes me think of the tents of the ungodly for some reason, but as the occasion for this bunfight is the opening of The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland I feel the description may be a tad inappropriate. The website I've just linked to describes the event thus: a garden party for Assembly commissioners and guests is one of the highlights of the Assembly's opening Saturday. As a mere Piskie, I am obviously in the category of "guest", and there will be several of us from all over the place. And the Duke of York.

Should be a blast - and a good blog topic, I hope. More when I return. And no - I'm not wearing a hat.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Five more books

Andrew raised the question of "the five books that have changed the way we think, or helped shape our own personal philosophy most", and I felt challenged. As I plunge recklessly into this subject (I was always one of these teachers who started a lesson in a spirit of adventure ...) I don't know if it'll come to five, but here goes:

The Myth of God Incarnate", edited by John Hick, was the first book of this type that I had read. It marked a return to serious reading after the brain-dead period of childbearing and opened up new avenues of thought. As did ...

The Go-Between God by John V Taylor, which I read shortly after spending three days with the author on a consultation entitled "Peacemaking in a Nuclear Age". I was so impressed by Bishop Taylor that I'd have read his shopping list at the time, but this book is covered in my orange highlighter, so keen was I to take it all in.

Shakespeare's "Hamlet". Studying this play at the age of 17 was the first time I'd become truly engaged with poetry/drama and I learned big chunks by heart - not merely for exam use, but because I wanted them as part of my soul.

The poems of Wilfred Owen. I actually read these for the first time in the programme for a performance of Britten's War Requiem - which, come to think of it, must have taken place soon after its composition. I was in S6 and had sat Higher English the year before; I was still studying the subject and yet this was the most modern poetry (1918!) I'd ever read. It was the start of a new life ...

The Scottish Prayer Book, 1929 vintage. I don't feel the need to use it in my worship now, but when I first came to it about 1970 it bowled me over. I was on the road to falling off my donkey four years later, and I can still remember the thrill of the beautiful language of the prayers and the sonority of the images. As a cradle Presbyterian who had turned her back on the church - and Christianity - before the music and the liturgy of the Episcopal church seduced me, I was amazed that anyone could own a copy of this magical collection.

There. I did reach five books. There may be more, but these have the cachet of being the spontaneously recalled items. Thanks for the idea, Andrew!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Cui bono?

A visit to Falkirk today, and to the thriving Churches together venture there, had me thinking in the traffic jams about ownership of our churches. Not in the sense of who owns the buildings - the question which leads to strife when congregations break away as in the USA today - but rather of how congregations and clergy deal with how things happen in a church - or even what happens in a church.

In a sense, a congregation appoints a priest to minister to them - but then leaves that person to make many of the decisions about the day-to-day running of a church, aided (or hindered) by a Vestry. The incumbent expects to be consulted about what happens in the building and to decide ... things. So the dynamic changes, and people who may have been running a charge for months in a vacancy, say, heave a sigh of relief and go back to not having to worry about such matters.

Or do they? Because in many parishes the people will have a far greater stake in what goes on in their church than the clergy who pass through. Their collective memory may cover a lifetime, and cover the incumbencies of an ever-increasing number of transient clergy, each bringing his/her own priorities and foibles and disappearing again on their own career paths. Even vestries don't really signify much: usually they are composed of the current crop of those who can be bothered doing the job/have been proposed despite themselves/feel they ought to take their turn. Once in situ, they seem to acquire their own momentum too. So a wall-hanging here, an icon there, a reredos banished to become a surround for a door, furniture moved or done away with ... and the punters in the pew, whose presence is the only thing keeping the doors open, complain or approve, take themselves off or feel that things are improved or wonder what was wrong with the way things had gone before.

And so it goes on. But it brings me back to my first question, and I'll put it slightly differently and maybe more provocatively: whose church is it?

And yes, I know it's Christ's church, but I'm talking about middle management and below here. For I don't think we can be passive any longer, and I am certain that empowering the laity has considerable implications for more than what they get up to during a service. So when we're debating Collaborative Ministry, let's not forget what, for convenience, I'm going to call Collaborative Laity. Because one thing's certain: we're all in this together.

Now there's a cliche for you!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Suddenly, a sense of deja vu. Long long ago, in a galaxy far away, I ran a school paper called The Pupils' View. The Editor was one son and his wee brother wrote for the paper and schemed for the day when he would be boss. (This did come to pass, but that's not the point). Today, on the GuardianUnlimited site comment is free..., I find a re-run. Ewan has already blogged about this in far greater detail, so I'll content myself with the observation that he does get around.

And indulge, briefly, in a PM* moment.

*PM: What mothers become when their young perform in public.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Words, words, words:book tag

Stewart tagged me about books. Quite daunting, in a way, but here goes:

How many books do you own?:
Far too many. I don't actually know and I'd have to spend ages counting, but at a rough guess I'd go to about 1,000. More than 5 anyway - I believe that was the limit of primitive people's reckoning.

Last book I read: Don't let's go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller. A wonderfully bleak and evocative picture of a childhood in Rhodesia as it went through the painful process of becoming Zimbabwe.

Five Books That Mean a Lot to Me:
Lord of the Rings has to come first, despite the rather predictable nature of such a choice. I first read it forty years ago (Oh dear) during what I still look back fondly on as my last "proper" illness: I was still living at home, working in my first teaching job, and caught a cold which ended up as bronchitis. I stayed in bed for the eight days it took me to finish the book, getting up in the evenings to avoid starting another section too late in the day. My mother brought me cups of tea and tempting little meals. Bliss! But now I can't read any of it without recalling the wonderfully addictive sensation of the cough medicine I had to take.

Peter Abelard by Helen Waddell. I love the evocation of mediaeval Paris and the way the characters slip in and out of Latin in the dialogue. There is a wonderfully moving example of the patripassian heresy in the book, as well as the darkness in men's hearts.

The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene. Actually I love Greene's books, but this is one that I taught to a Higher class once and so came to know it really well. Its structure is fascinating and the imagery wonderful - and that's before you consider the story itself. Years later a student in another Higher class chose it for his Review of Personal Reading and became so obsessed by it that he was in danger of neglecting his other work. He did rather well, I remember.

The Collected Poems of R.S.Thomas. I suspect this tag may be about novels, but as it doesn't say so I'm ignoring the suspicion. Thomas' poetry is taut, bleak, moves me to tears with some lines (usually the final two in a poem) and has been instrumental in developing my own theology over the years - to say nothing of my own poetry writing.

The King Must Die by Mary Renault. I read this long before I first visited Crete, but on the seven occasions on which I have since stayed on the island I have found myself thinking of its powerful evocation of the ancient world of the bull dance and the labyrinth.

And of course this list leaves out the hundreds of books I've enjoyed over the years - the Pyms, the Howatches (before they became so formulaic), the Hornblower books, the Auels, the Sharpe books, the Conan Doyles, the Edmund Crispins and the Michael Inneses which were my introduction to detective fiction ... I fondly salute them all.

And I tag : Di, Kimberly, Andrew (because I'm sure he spends too much time over a computer), Neil and Ewan because it was the dickens of a job to get him to read any fiction in his formative years.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Holy snipers

A visit to my old classroom (strangely unaltered after almost two years - see left) prompted a range of emotions and a chain of reflection. It was great to feel so at home in school, even as I rejoiced in the ability to walk out of it again after a couple of hours; it was good to catch up with former colleagues and to catch pupils waving in a friendly manner across the playground as I went in.

Now, of course, much of my contact with the world of education is online. I find that the blogs I read fall for the most part into two categories: educational and church-orientated. On one side the posts and the comments are largely supportive, appreciative, gentle, careful of one another's egos, putting forward helpful and often innovative ideas for all to share. On the other side the posts are often self-aware, sometimes outrageous, often critical, and the comments snippy, defensive, brittle, caustic. You might think it obvious which group is which, but to avoid confusion I should point out that the latter group are the church folk, and the professionals at that. I find the contrast between expectation and reality interesting. Could it in fact be the burden of that very expectation that causes such hard carapaces?

And a final thought about school and church. When I was in the Infant class, we all had to say the Lord's Prayer every morning, standing beside our desks, eyes closed, hands piously clasped before us. The girl immediately behind me always muttered something different - a rapid, distracting mutter. One day I asked her what she was saying. "The teddy-bear's picnic" - quick as a flash. I thought this wonderfully rebellious. Later, much later, I realised that she was Jewish. At the time I was merely aware of a gulf between us, the gulf between my ignorance and her defensiveness. I remembered this today when I heard a rebel in my own congregation muttering her "Teddy-bear's picnic" - the Grey Book liturgy, to which she clings and which this morning had been abandoned in favour of an out-of-synch indulgence in the Blue Book.

Trouble is - we're supposed to be a unity. We don't half make it difficult for ourselves.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Of ancient things

Originally uploaded by goforchris.
We had some interesting cultural experiences - vile phrase! - during our London stay. Two places I'd never visited were the British Library and the British Museum, which between then provided us with warm venues when the weather turned decidedly chilly.

At the Library we visited the Sacred exhibition, subtitled "discover what we share": a collection of sacred texts from Christianity, Islam and Judaism, including a fragment of a Dead Sea Scroll and the earliest complete New Testament, the Codex Sinaiticus. I was fascinated by the 4th century manuscript containing long quotations from a Syrian version of the Diatessaron, a compendium of the four Gospels originally composed in the second century and later suppressed by the church, as I was by actually seeing the Lindisfarne Gospels. There were fantastically decorated copies of the Qur'an and the Torah, but in such a wealth of material it was impossible to absorb everything and we found ourselves focussing on the Christian exhibits - the earliest of which contained no decoration at all and seemed to embody the urgency with which the early church sought to preserve the continuity of belief and understanding as the first-hand witnesses died out.

The afternoon in the British Museum lasted for just enough time to be intimidated by the immense Egyptian and Assyrian statues (see pic) and aroused by the sight of what is now called the Parthenon Frieze. I know the history of how the Parthenon was used to store gunpowder and could well have ended up as a pile of dust, but I can't help feeling that now the "Elgin marbles" should be returned to Greece. London is probably more of a target for today's violence than Athens is, and though it's interesting to see the real thing close up, it would be more powerful to see them in situ. Actually, I grew up with these reliefs; they were - and presumably still are - round the ceiling of Hillhead Primary School (Glasgow) stairwell, tastefully outlined in dust.

Lasting impression? The sight of a 3600-year-old Pharoah looking serenely out over the scuttling of tourists and posing effortlessly as part of their photos. What of our efforts, I wonder, will we leave behind?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Global warming

Paid a visit to The Globe on our London trip - the reconstruction that is the brainchild of actor Sam Wanamaker, who was apparently scunnered to find on a visit to London that there was nothing more than a miserable plaque to commemorate Shakespeare's south bank theatre. I'd often wondered what it'd be like to be a theatregoer on a wet day in Elizabethan times, and now I know: wet. The rain poured down on the area in front of the stage, where the "groundlings" paid a penny to stand; interesting enough you can now share this experience by paying the £5 that is reckoned to be the current equivalent. Maybe if there's the capacity 500 crowd your legs stay dry ...

It's a fascinating experience even to make the tour ("Othello" was booked out for the only day we could've gone), sitting in the two penny balcony (hard seats) and seeing where the gentry would go - I never knew they even shared the balcony above the stage. It'd rather cramp Juliet's style, to have some toff preening himself next door.

But that was perhaps the point. I'll need to get to a performance there, but I got the feeling of how closely players and audience would have been related in these conditions. It must have felt like entering into another world, with none of the distancing that happens even in the darkest cinema - let alone in your living room watching telly with all the distractions of ordinary life all around you. Apparently, however, heat was and is a problem. On sunny days the audience in the galleries are issued with sun visors because of the glare, and people have been known to faint. Must've been even worse in the pre-deodorant/daily shower/washing-machine days - when Shakespeare could write of the crowd which "uttered such a deal of stinking breath" that Caesar fainted.

I'll settle for some modern distractions.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Rubbernecking in London

Evening street scene, London
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Another knackering day in the city left us feeling much as we did after Glen Rosa: it's amazing how city streets and - especially - an art gallery can leave your wee legs feeling ready to drop off. London is amazingly picturesque, however, so that even before you visit the National Gallery you feel you're part of a picture, or maybe a movie.

We had a lovely time in the National Gallery, all the way from a superb light lunch (good tip, Neil) to the Canaletto I'd never seen before (The Stonemasons' Yard) which I loved instantly. There is of course the thrill of going into a room and spotting some painting you've seen replicated on everything from silk ties to teatowels and suddenly realising this is it - the real thing.

We had some Earl Grey in Covent Garden to the accompaniment of a super string quintet, a visit to the wonderful Rohan shop there (many clothes we hadn't seen in Glasgow) and ended up in Fish! for dinner. Great.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Blue Men in action

Wow. I've just been to The Blue Man Group Show in London's West End. I'm reeling. Three blue men - one of them was posing for photos as we left the theatre - did absurd and incredible things with drums, fluorescent paint, plumbing (used as percussion), members of the audience and, finally, yard upon yard upon yard of paper, which poured over our heads in an irresistible tide towards the stage as the lights flashed wildly and the drums throbbed.

There was a time near the beginning of the show when I thought it was all going to be too much - too loud, too insistent - but either my ears got used to it or the variety was such that the moment passed just at the crucial point. I was impressed by the sang froid of the young woman cajoled from the audience to participate in a crazy, silent meal - for this was in essence a mime show, with drumming. And as for the young man who was hustled backstage ...

There was great deal of paint, and Rice Krispies. But it's no good going on like this. It was wildly exhilarating. You had to be there. Really.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Bottom of the class

Well, well. That cross says it all - wrong, wrong, wrong. Scotland's election is a shambles - missing postal ballot papers, fog-bound helicopters, electronic counting - and confused voters. It's the last of these I despair about. The radio this morning is full of people wondering why this confusion has arisen, people assuring us that while they personally have "a modicum of common sense" they nevertheless made "a pig's ear" of their ballot paper.

Sorry, chaps, but anyone who has worked in a state school for as many years as I have could have told them it'd be a disaster. Two papers? Colour-coded? We're well on the way. Crosses on one paper and numbers on the other - as many as you like up to six, but if you only want to put one please don't put a cross? Aye, right. We had a charming lady doing her best - and her best was pretty impressive - to make sure that all the punters passing her were at least asked if they knew what they were doing. Her explanation was clear - but actually quite complicated, in an irritating sort of way. We listened, asked a question, and went on our way. And yes, we did it right and our votes will be counted 'cos we didn't fold the paper.

But here's the rub. Most people don't listen. They glaze over after the first sentence. I know - I spent 30 years of my life watching them, and their children. They don't listen and they can't really read. Single words, yes. Whole sentences, with alternatives? Forget it. Lost already. And then stick them in a wee cubicle where they canny ask their neighbour? Think of the exams which are about to suck in our huddled masses of first-time voters next time round. The poorer pupils will finish a two-hour exam in half an hour and then stretch and scratch their bellies (male) or fiddle with their hair (female, usually). Not because they're so bright they've scooshed through the paper, but because they've switched off in despair/boredom/dawning awareness.

In every class of 30 pupils, there would be up to five of them who would mess up any form you gave them - whether it was the title page for their English folio or a plan of the classroom in which to put their name at the correct desk symbol. There would be three who forgot to use block capitals and two who put the current date for their date of birth. And they'd do it in ink, and there was never the right colour of tippex to do an invisible correction. These people are the ones who spoiled their ballot papers unwittingly. We shouldn't be spending a fortune on an enquiry, or worrying about the system of allocation of parliamentary seats. We should spend it on smaller classes and more effective teaching.

But hey! George W. was elected by what sounded like spoiled ballot papers - and look how much he managed to achieve.

Bitter laughter is allowed.

Update: Shortly after writing the above, I learned that a friend of mine drove all the way from Inverness to vote, arriving triumphantly at the polling station in Dunoon at 9.55pm. "Sorry, you're too late" he was told. Apparently the polling agents had set their clock "a few minutes early" - and they were sticking to it. Democracy in Argyll is obviously in A Bad Way.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


Originally uploaded by goforchris.
It's election day. I haven't voted yet - I've been sitting in this sunny garden among the scent of the bluebells reading in The Guardian - or should that now be the guardian? - why voting for the Nationalists might not be a good idea. Actually, I probably wouldn't anyway. I tend to vote tactically for the parliamentary elections and personally for the council - and I must say it's great having an issue with the Roads department in the run-up to an election! Such attentiveness ...

And yet, as I think about strolling up to the polling station, I can't help a small twinge of rebellion - a sort of 'damn the consequences' moment. I'll see how long the twinge lasts.

My garden is where I was teaching last night. One of my students was discussing her choices for revision in view of next Friday's Higher English. She's sticking to poetry and prose - and probably hoping for MacCaig and Lessing - because she didn't really get studying drama this year. And guess what - she's really fed up that the class abandoned Shakespeare for Meedja Studies. She doesn't feel it's really English.

I laughed at her - told her she was a real traditionalist. But guess what? She made my day.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Much ado ..

Buchanan Street scene
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Spent today in Glasgow. Spent quite a bit of dosh too - very satisfactory. We were intrigued by the presence of many yellow-clad police officers in the city centre (there appeared to be hordes of them, but closer inspection revealed that some were in fact yellow SNP signs). We passed one knot of them who were peering at/through some device, apparently at a group of tense-jawed young men with kefiyahs round their necks. However, the young men were considerably outnumbered by police and shoppers and we passed on.

Later, bedizened with plastic bags (and the one paper bag from the posh shop), we returned to Buchanan Street. The police presence was still very noticeable. About five youngish people were eating their lunch and playing chess on a pocket set; the only slightly odd thing was that they were sitting on the pavement, but nobody was paying them much attention. I asked a policeman if he was waiting for something exciting to happen, but no. Apparently the most exciting thing that could happen to him would be to be allowed to stand down. He hadn't had even a comfort break in four hours. They had been expecting an anti-capitalism May-Day rally, but it hadn't materialised and he was bored and presumably bursting.

Still, it was a lovely day for wasting police time in.

Glasgow central

The things one is driven to by a mixture of curiosity and boredom!