Sunday, 26 September 2010

Autumn equinox

I'm a few days late with this, as the autumn equinox was actually 23rd September, but anyway it seems to me that we're well and truly into autumn now - cold nights, chilly mornings and a definite nip in the air in the evening too, even after a tolerably fine day. Time to turn the heating on, if only for a couple of hours - and time to get the plants in off the balcony to the relative warmth of the windowsill.

Time, too, to dig some winter clothes out ready: this morning my New Rock boots came in very handy as I took Raggs for our customary Sunday walk in the woods!

Monday, 20 September 2010

Just desserts?

I read with interest today that Mary Bale (the local woman who was caught on CCTV dumping someone's cat in a wheelie bin) is being prosecuted for it. Although fortunately no harm came to the cat, it was a singularly silly thing to do and it's still not entirely clear what prompted a middle-aged bank clerk to do something more commonly expected from a yob with a string of ASBOs. She certainly hasn't done herself any favours by reportedly saying earlier that she couldn't understand what all the fuss was about.

The extent of the reporting which has already been done I must say strikes me as a bit excessively disproportionate but the RSPCA evidently feel the matter is worth pursuing. I can't seriously imagine her getting much more than a token community work sentence - if that. On the other hand, if nothing more than a pour encourager les autres value, it still serves to debunk the idea that the "only a cat" is any sort of justification for doing what she did.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Credit where credit's due

I've had the misfortune to have to do quite a bit of hospital visiting just lately, and since I don't have a car (and couldn't afford the usurious hospital parking charges if I did) but I do have a free bus pass, that's how I get there.

So off I set the other day just after lunch, only to find that bus arrived absolutely packed to bursting point with schoolboys on their way home. Given the time of day (about ten to two in the afternoon), I'm guessing they may have got let off school early: they seemed in high spirits and quite boisterous, but in a harmless sort of way - not unlike some of my journeys home on the school bus when I was their age.

Anyway, during the course of the half-hour journey, three things struck me:

1) They were all (as far as I could see) dressed neatly and tidily in the correct items of school uniform.

2) I didn't hear the F-word once from any of them during the entire journey, nor anything even remotely close to it, and when one of them accidentally stepped on my foot, he apologized instantly.

3) They chatted amongst themselves freely and amiably without feeling the need to insert the word "like" as an essential ingredient of every single sentence.

It's probably rather a sad indictment of the low standards of pupil behaviour in public which is passed as acceptable by most schools that I find it remarkable enough to notice and comment on this in the first place - but kudos to the staff and pupils of Woodlands School. I don't have a son, but if I did I'd be more than happy to consider sending him there.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Parlez-vous fran├žais?

I read in a news article this week that the number of pupils studying French had dropped 45% in the last eight years, apparently thanks to a Govenment decision that it should no longer be compulsory to study a foreign language for GCSE. When I was at school, all of us studied French and the proficient linguists took Latin and/or German as well, though I'm not sure whether everyone took O level in it. But I've no idea about whether it was a standard CSE subject at secondary modern schools or not.

As with many news articles, I find, the interesting insight comes in the form of the comments other readers have been making. I'd certainly agree that with the focus in my day on translation and comprehension, the ability to actually speak and converse naturally in the language was not something that we aquired with any great ease or conviction: even at A level, the emphasis was on the literature rather than teaching us how to be naturally fluent. One of the things I enjoyed most about my brief period of study at Uni was practising, listening and speaking, in the language laboratory there.

As far as French being the 'obvious' choice went, in those days cheap foreign travel wasn't widely available and a day-trip or a week's holiday to the nearest European country was all a lot of people could afford. It was (and still is) one of the most widely-spoken languages, marginally more difficult than Spanish, but probably easier than German. I only did Spanish once a week for a couple of terms so I can't really remember much of it, but Italian - with my Latin background - I took to very quickly and easily. In terms of demand, there's a definite case to be made for learning Indic languages or Chinese, and while I was working at Nuneaton, we had an large influx of Polish workers as customers and so we had some little crib-sheets made with 'useful' phrases on to practice with. One or two staff went to night school: I don't know if any of the secondary schools were enterprising enough to teach Polish, but I somehow doubt it.

Quelle dommage!