Archive | January, 2014


30 Jan

We play cricket on porridge pitches and in blizzard conditions in April; rugby in heat and on the bone-hard sward in September. We offer places at Universities before the results appear and then unpick the whole thing in the light of proper info. We spent years convincing ourselves that Jimmy Savile was a ‘warm and quirky personality’. We prefer the tawdry behaviour of hugely overpaid Premiership footballers to the Herculean efforts of a vast array of other admirable athletes. We buy the Sun newspaper in vastly greater quantity than any other national daily. Just how many more idiocies can we list?

Thousands – and I’m starting here so that everone can think up their own hit list and, like Desert Island Discs, review their favourites on a regular basis. There will be those based on nostalgia such as that strangest of times in the 70s when the miners couldn’t see that their cause was blighted by the selfish and self-seeking self-publicist Arther Scargill. Or the lukewarm milk delivered to primary schools in the 50s which parents and teachers thought was good for us after the privations of rationing.

The inexplicable list could go on forever. Why, oh why do we persist with: tattoos, cold calls, Keith Lemon, Big Brother….no let’s get rather more serious.

Why do people get paid bonuses for doing their jobs?

Why do we look back to learn lessons for the future, when the past tells us that we don’t learn lessons.?

Why are brilliant actors and other performers appallingly inarticulate when they receive awards?

What’s wrong with a coalition where two sides have to get on and sort out their differences?

Why are double-glazed houses still draughty?

Why don’t ladies drink port and lemon any more?

OK now it’s getting rather random so let’s start (once again) with something I should know about and then have lists of idiotic questions sorted by category.


1. Have we decided what it is yet – and what it’s for?

2. Grading systems – these seem to be under debate (again). Go back to square one and admit that all anyone is interested in is which grades mean pass and which mean fail?

3. Is Literature as important as Physics? Is Art as important as Maths? Should we even rate subjects as more – or less – important?

4. Do children learn more out of school than in?

5. Why aren’t some degree courses allocated half the study-time? History for example.

6. If Ofsted and Mr Gove are essentially outcomes-driven (ie fixated on results), why are they bothered about parents taking children on term-time holidays? Private schools have weeks more holiday and seem to be the paradigm for much current thinking.

7. Why do teachers try to justify themselves?

8. Why don’t more headteachers cuddle their staff?

And so on…Send me your weird list, please.

That was my week that was..

21 Jan

My left ear is blocked at the moment and, along with most people who have time on their hands, I can’t be bothered to do much about it. A stupid reason for this is that I derive a strange pleasure from those out-of-body experiences when I am in a room full of people chatting and it’s all just muffled echo to me. One such experience was at the National Portrait Gallery last Thursday.

I headed downstairs to the 60s/70s retro photo exhibition – the Who and Mick Jagger along with a couple of blurred snaps of Bob Dylan. I rather liked the shot of David Bowie – a sixties side-on stylised picture, all mod., Lambretta and Carnaby Street. The rest left me cold and I wondered why the motley selection were the price of a small mortgage. I noted, as I do at all photo-exhibitions, the information on camera, lens, settings and the rest. Dylan was certainly not flattered by the ill-focused tour snaps that now grace the basement of the NPG.

Just a few steps away was the ‘Starring in..’ Vivien Leigh exhibition – all 40s and 50s chic glamour;  studied, angled, hyper-lit shots for promotion; classic moments from Gone with the Wind and Streetcar Named Desire. Rare beauty and artifice combining for great artistic effect. Right lens settings-too.

I moved to see what the Anthony Van-Dyck fuss was about – that is the self-portrait that will cost the nation £12.5 million if we can wrest it from the hands of a dastardly private buyer. You can make a Freephone call to Andrew Motion while you are staring at the rather louche view that VD had of himself. I was rather taken by both Mr Motion’s thoughts on spending the nation’s cash and the rather wicked gleam in the Flemish master’s eye.

I repaired to the Chandos across the road for an extremely cheap pint of Sam Smiths before making my way to a posh club down Pall Mall for a College drinks party for alumni who like me, like drinks parties. Given the age of the old boys and girls (25 -80ish) it might be expected that we would be pretty au fait with chatting to people we didn’t know. I met up with one old buddy but, mostly I cruised around being engaged by almost all whom I surveyed. A captain of industry here, an academic there; a doctor, accountant, an unemployed astro-physicist and a woman who writes poetry while she’s on the toilet. Best of all was the college President who had had a spat with Michael Gove on the Today programme a couple of days previously. His answer when I asked him ‘Were you surprised that Mr Gove knew more than you about history and education since you are an expert in  both and he in neither?’ would make a good template for many such exchanges with our political masters.

Apart from having to stick my finger in my left ear to drown out the surround-sound, I managed pretty well the following day at the Royal Festival Hall. Brahms and Beethoven were on the menu and, despite being more Coldplay that classical I much enjoyed settling down in that lovely (cross between Art-Deco and Scandanavian Modernism they tell me) place and marvelling at the virtuosity of the brilliant Russian pianist Yuliana Avdeeva and the haughty, moody and magnificent conductor Vladimir Jurowski. We smuggled in a bottle of red. The RFH drinks price-list is the embodiment of extortion so an illicit Shiraz was a must.

I enjoy feeling superior to the frantic mobile-fiddlers on the Tube. The iPhone caress is now ubiquitous, so when there is a sub-terranean interruption to global connectivity there is a sense of cold-turkey for those whose journey involves more than a few stops. I rather ostentatiously pulled out my autobiography of JG Ballard on the District Line and was feeling quite smug when my own mobile began to trill. Aargh! High Street Kensington is at ground level; the signal had broken though!

Sheepishly I answered – my son Charlie phoning for the weekly catch-up from his offshore haven in the Channel Islands. Trying to disguise the fact that I was on the phone at all simply made me look like a spy from a 60s Cold War movie. The conversation continued on the platform as I waited for a connecting Circle Line. Seven minutes until the next tube – and if you knew Charlie when he has a story to tell, seven mins barely covers it. After about four I relaxed and was then sorry when the wagon rolled in and the connection was lost. I didn’t return to JG Ballard but scavenged a copy of the Evening Standard; not difficult as plenty carpeted the floor of an otherwise rather commodious and smart new carriage.

Other highs and lows punctuated my week which, as usual rounded up with a review of the news on Sunday – my day for current-affairs reflection. Lord Rennard seems to have got the Lib Dems in a pickle. He is a sweaty balloon of a man who, thus far anyway, seems to have been found innocent by an investigating QC. The knives are out however and the issue is hot, hot, hot. The Cleggmeister is damned whatever he does. Turn to the Sunday Times Review section for the usual Woodhead teacher-bashing letters column. Always a winner.

My daughter only got a C in her Latin Test but her grades have been consistently A* throughout the term so far. The teacher clearly hasn’t been taught how to mark tests properly like they do in all private schools. Do you agree that the 56 year-old teacher with a PhD who has only taught for 33 years should be suspended pending an investigation? Name and address withheld because I fear reprisals by the teachers.

CW. I am pleased that you brought this sort of unprofessional sloppiness to my attention. These are the sorts of standards we can expect in bog standard comprehensives. Write to the Headteacher forthwith. My friend the lawyer Jack Andthebeanstalking tells me that you have a prima face case which could go all the way to the guillotine.

Anthony Seldon, the overworked Master of Wellington College, who barely had time to write John Major’s and Tony Blair’s biographies and the 20 or so articles for various newspapers and journals in 2013 has come up with the idea that rich parents could pay £20,000 pa per head towards the cost of their offsprings’ education. I wish him well with that one.

The week finished with a walk along the Thames, in full spate, near Hampton Court.  Next week I collect my new prescription glasses. I won’t be hearing much but I may see a lot more.

Books, books, books….

16 Jan

My 2013 reading. Mini reviews and ratings. Highly questionable, really.  For what it’s worth…Books 2013

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