Saturday, 24 December 2011
Nevertheless, having become more than just a little irritated at getting messages requiring me rto register before being able to read something on the grounds that it was restricted to a 'mature audience' (although I suppose I can see why they need to do it), I duly registered - after all, it's free to join.
The organization is a little bit chaotic, but I found some groups to join fairly easily and thought I might as well throw in my two-cents' worth, so I wrote and posted a few brief "experiences" myself. The one I really enjoyed writing was the story of my three years spent out in Hong Kong. Some people can write very detailed and vivid accounts of what happened to them when they were eight or nine, but I'm afraid I'm not one of them, and all I was able to do was paint a bit of a kaleidoscope of impressions by piecing together the few definite facts which have stuck in my mind over the years.
I'll always remember it as a happy time, though I do, having by then attended six schools in as many years, distinctly recall experiencing at the age of eleven a definite sense of wanting to settle down somewhere permantly after we'd returned.
Monday, 5 December 2011
There were four parts of the test. The first was listening to a recorded passage of dialogue and picking out multiple choice answers for what the people were talking about. That I really struggled with: the diction wasn't terribly clear, and they spoke fairly fast, so I was reduced to picking out recognizable words and hoping I'd guessed the context correctly. So my answers were not much more than blind guesswork.
The second was an email from someone writing about their holiday, with some multiple-choice questions asking what they'd done and whether they'd enjoyed it or not. Fairly straightforward with the odd unfamiliar word easy enough to guess from the context.
Number three was a grammar exercise filling in blanks by conjugating verbs correctly in the future tense. We'd done that fairly recently, so I remembered how to do it - and not that many Italian verbs are irregular in the future tense anyway.
Finally a piece of composition based on a short scenario of having encountered a bag-snatcher in the park, and reporting said event to the police! We had to use the passato prossimo (aka perfect tense) of at least ten out of a list of fifteen verbs, and having - I feel - rather done the perfect tense to death over the course of the last year, I managed to use all 15, although I "cheated" slightly by using a couple of imperfects, an infinitive and even a pluperfect or two!
We get the results on Friday! Somehow or other, though, I think I've really got to get to grips with how to understand spoken dialogue better.
Saturday, 26 November 2011
There looked to be quite a lot of people there, especially as Leamington Parish Church is enormous - more the size of a cathedral. The priest who read the eulogy had been friends with my sister for a number of years, and had in fact phoned me the previous week for some background information on what it had been like growing up together. In fact although I'd quite readily and naturally assumed the role of the brat little brother plaguing his big sister at every opportunity, as adults we got on well together and I don't recollect that we ever fell out with each other. Listening to it, the eulogy I thought captured my sister's character very well, unlike some I've heard where I've sat there wondering if they were talking about the same person! It did strike me though that I hadn't realized the full extent of my sister's ill health, perhaps understandably as it wasn't something she'd ever really confided in me.
There followed a burial at Warwick cemetery, alongside the grave of her youngest son who died somewhat tragically five years ago. That's a little unusual these days, I think: most people are cremated, not least because of the number of graveyards that are actually full. I shed a few tears as I listened to the priest reciting the "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" prayer and I was struck by the finality of it all, throwing a handful of earth down onto the coffin.
A couple of our cousins made the trip up to the funeral, acting as a poignant reminder of how my sister had always tended to carry on our mother's tradition of keeping in touch with "the family" - though in all honesty I'm not sure she'd had that much actual contact, or at least not until fairly recently. We said goodbye at the end, promising that must stay in touch *as you do* though how the reality of that will turn out remains to be seen.
Once the grave is finished with the headstone in place, I shall perhaps go and visit it. I used to visit the cemetery at Kenilworth, where my parents' ashes are interred, quite regularly at first but over the course of the last twenty-odd years got out of the habit, basically because I suppose I ceased to feel the need to. I guess it's something that's a very personal decision: to my knowledge my sister never went there, but I shall probably go again now if only to try in a strange way to come to terms in my mind with the impact of what's happened.
Sunday, 20 November 2011
The inevitable result of course is that quite a number of sites and programs have grown up out there which will let you copy streaming video - most for free. I've tried several over a period of time: the one I've tended to use most is Real Player, which has a nifty little 'Download This Video' toolbar which pops up alongside the clip thumbnail in your browser. Except that I've found it gives a fairly high failure rate in terms of unplayable clips, and it hardly ever works at all with anything on X-Tube.
But the other day I came across VideoGet, which I have on test at the moment. It boasts an impressive list of supported sites, and has a built-in file format converter. It's shareware and limits you to 20 downloads after which you have to pay: I've used it twice, and if I find it succeeds on another 18 where the others have failed, I shall probably shell out the $24.95 and buy a copy.
Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Over the years, of course, our "extended family" has inevitably dwindled. When I think back to all those boyhood Christmases with rows of cards from aunts and uncles including their respective offspring - and to the occasional big get-together - it rather brings it home to me that I'm one of a decreasing number of survivors. The aunts and uncles slowly became fewer (albeit living till their nineties in a couple of cases) and while I have a couple of cousins' phone numbers, others I'd long ago lost touch with and don't recollect whether my sister had any recent contact or not although she did tell me a while back she was embarking on doing a family tree!
Of our own immediate family, it now just leaves me - my mother and father having died some twenty years ago. I remember having distinct nightmares as quite a small boy that my mother would die suddenly and I'd be left all alone in the world! Silly when you look back on it, and I suppose like all toddlers I really thought the end of the world had come if I suddenly found I'd lost sight of my mum in a shop or somewhere. When in 1988 it happened for real, it did somewhat to my surprise take me quite a while to get over her death but I daresay the passage of years brings with it the realization that human lifespan is a finite quantity and I'm maybe a bit more philosophical about it all now.
So if I look behind me now there's no longer anyone there holding me, but somehow I sense their spirit is still very much alive - and I guess always will be.
Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Thinking back, it must be almost two years since I'd last seen my sister in person. The extent to which she'd aged made it seem more like twenty. The stroke has evidently done an awful lot of damage. That, coupled with her deteriorating health generally, and the frail figure looking up at me from the hospital bed I'd have guessed, had I not known, might have been in her nineties. She recognized me and knew who I was: some of the time, as I told her about some of the things that had happened, she responded briefly but almost normally - but there were quite long periods when she seemed to retreat into a world of her own, occasionally saying something which probably made sense to her but didn't seem to relate to anything - almost as if her brain was missing a cog or two and kept slipping out of gear.
She's being really well looked after: the staff all seemed very kind and sympathetic, and she's been getting visitors. But I learned from my nephew who as luck would have it happened to pop by and have a talk with her consultant, that short of a miracle there isn't going to be anything much they can do for her - she's on borrowed time.
I still have the mixed emotions I wrote about a fortnight ago, perhaps felt even more acutely now. I'm glad I went, especially as it may turn out to have been the last time I shall have seen her. Exactly at what point nature will take its course I've no way of telling: seventy isn't a particularly advanced age by modern life expectancy standards, of course. But it seems likely she may just pass away peacefully in her sleep which I guess isn't a bad way to go.
Sunday, 30 October 2011
I think back to all the nights I spent listening to that distinctive voice on Radio Luxembourg, my transistor radio sneakily hidden under the bedclothes when my parents fondly imagined I'd gone to sleep! To that very first "Top of the Pops" way back in the year I took my O levels, and then to the Sunday lunchtime Radio 1 "Double Top Ten Show" with its challenge of 'points' awarded for remembering the hits of years gone by: I think I still have some old reel-to-reel tape recordings of some of them.
The stories he used to tell of being a porter at Leeds Royal Infirmary, his fundraising exploits for Stoke Mandeville - and of course, all those Marathons he ran! In an age increasingly dominated by revelations of sleaze amongst the rich and famous, it's a refreshing change to have come across a genuinely good person.
"How's about that then?"
Saturday, 22 October 2011
Anyway, the reward came yesterday in the form of a certificate for the successful completion of last year's studies. I did in fact get a grade A, although the grade isn't shown on the certificate - perhaps everyone gets an A? I must admit I wasn't expecting anything quite so formal and grandiose, almost worthy of a graduation ceremony, I thought. I don't suppose I shall ever use it for anything, but 44 years after I made a first hesitant attempt at studying Italian, it's definitly nice to finally have something to show for it!
Saturday, 15 October 2011
The prognosis is not good. It's apparently affected her left side and she's currently unable to get out of bed, but it's also affected her speech as well as making her a somewhat confused and disorientated. He's of the opinion she'll have to go into a nursing home, and while I know that the hospital staff and therapists will do their best to salvage what they can from the damage the stroke's done, her health was so poor to start off with, that they're going to have their work cut out. She was already set up and about to move into a place at a sheltered housing complex before this happened.
Perhaps irrationally, I feel more than just a bit guilty. We weren't particularly close as kids, and with her being seven years older than me I did more than my fair share of being the brat little brother of my big sister! We weren't really alike temperamentally, either: she was rather given to moods - bouts of the sulks, the silences and the tears - and in that respect took after my father, whereas I inherited my mother's "what you see is what you get", with the occasional blazing row all forgotten about twenty minutes later.
An unhappy marriage and eventual divorce took its toll emotionally I suspect and in the couple of decades since our parents died, her asthma (always worse than mine) deteriorated and she started to suffer falls and resulting loss of mobility - as well as a bowel condition which needs operating on, but with a general anaesthetic making it too risky to do. What with our mother's bad chest and chronic bronchitis, and father's (mild) stroke and eventual fatal heart attack, she seems to have inherited all the family ills.
So... why do I feel guilty? Our childhoods were different: I wasn't packed off to boarding school, although I did as a teenager grow to resent having been shunted around the world from pillar to post, unable to form any lasting friendships. I'm certainly not proud of the immature way I joined in my parents' constant derision of my sister's choice of boyfriends and I guess that over the years I could've seen a lot more of her: we don't live that far away and a phone call - even a long one - isn't altogether the same as contact in person. But... what's done is done.
Monday, 12 September 2011
The raspberries on the other hand have produced a second burst of fruit which is still going strong - apparently on the new canes which I'm sure have only grown this year: I'd always thought young canes weren't supposed to bear fruit until the following year? Not only that, some of the canes are enormous, being over eight feet tall. I don't think I'd realized what a relatively easy crop they are to grow and harvest although admittedly it's taken a few years for them to multiply from the half-dozen or so that I started out with.
The strawberries are putting out runners and little plantlets furiously, too. Their fruiting season was earlier and shorter, but the signs are promising for another good crop next year. The signs are not so promising for another hard winter, though - but I guess we shall just have to wait and see.....
Monday, 5 September 2011
My knowledge of the subject was hitherto limited to a rather sterotypical image of rows of birds waddling across the Antarctic ice sheet, and I found the blog account of his background rather fascinating. It's still something of a mystery how he made his way so far from his natural habitat, but then Nature is full of surprising and remarkable achievements (surprising to us humans, at any rate).
As befits Happy Feet's superstar status, he's now got his own website complete with a tracking map to show where he swims to and how far he's got on his journey home - assuming, that is, that he's going "home". Maybe he's not finished exploring just yet! He's got his legion of Twitter fans rooting for him and wishing him well on his travels, at any rate.
Bon voyage, Happy Feet!
Saturday, 20 August 2011
Not that I'm knocking the achievements of this year's A level students. Thinking back, I remember two years of solid hard slog to get there, wondering at times whether it was all going to be worth it. Both French and German - the two subjects which gained me my As - have undergone a decline in popularity over the last decade, despite the fact that the students of today no longer have to sit through the interminable study of set texts which plagued me when I did mine.
As far as the question of "soft" options go, this is another question which yet again rears its ugly head. The then-new A level General Studies wasn't counted as worth anything by Universities, and so I didn't bother to take it, opting instead for a couple of now-defunct S-Levels. If subjects such as Media Studies are to be denigrated as not "proper" A-levels, then to my mind that is the fault of the examining boards for not devising a syllabus which is exacting enough, and the fault of the Universities for giving them a parity in the points allocation. Whatever happened to the proviso that you had to have a track record of excellence in the subject you were applying to study?
There again, the tendency of Universities to broaden the scope of degree offerings has contributed a lot to the 'Micky Mouse Degree' accusations. In 1980 I went to Polytechnic part-time for three years and got a BA in Librarianship. As a primarily 'vocational' qualification (which my employer declined to pay for, incidentally) it hardly rates alongside an Oxbridge Honours in Classics. But although it didn't bring me fame and fortune (or even an increase in salary) I'm kinda proud of my achievement. And in an educational system which seems these days to be increasingly focused on mediocrity, I guess that's reason enough.
Thursday, 11 August 2011
Tuesday night, the local Police were out and about visibly in force in their patrol cars, evidently taking no chances. They'd advised parents to keep their kids indoors and off the streets, and I certainly didn't see as many as I'd have expected to on a pleasant summer evening during the school holidays. Last night there seemed to be somewhat fewer Police around, but it was just as quiet - almost spookily so as darkness fell and it started raining around 8.30. I came across a couple of groups of local people clearing up litter in their streets - not vandalism debris, just ordinary stuff - but an example perhaps of how the tide of public opinion is turning against the mindless destruction and how people are determined to 'do their bit' to counteract it? Maybe.
Undoubtedly, the rioters and looters had been on a roll everywhere: they must've thought they were unstoppable. That's largely fizzled out: now heavily outnumbered by the Police on the streets, rained on, and with most of the public against them, I can't see enough momentum building up again to cause anything like as much trouble as we saw on the news at the weekend.
We can't of course all protect our homes and businesses like the magnificent way in which the Sikhs in Southall did it: you don't mess with those guys! We rely on the Police, and then the Courts to do their bit. Following the Prime Minister's declaration that those responsible should go to jail, it was interesting that some Magistrates took him at his word and referred defendants to the Crown Court for sentencing. It was also interesting that many of those defendants didn't fit the stereotypical image of a disaffected alienated youth: a primary school mentor, postman, charity worker, lifeguard, scaffolder - some in their 20s and 30s. I did wonder about the 11-year old boy, though, complete with two mobile phones and a recent conviction and referral order for a previous but apparently unrelated offence. Why on earth we cling to this outmoded idea that "children" must be afforded the automatic protection of anonymity in Court for violent offences like these is beyond me. Hopefully some of the more hardcore offenders who have yet to be identified and traced will duly get their day in Court too.
The Prime Minister gave a 'tell it like it is' speech in Parliament: "... We will track you down, we will find you, we will charge you, we will punish you" Almost Churchillian in tone, I thought: "... we will fight you on the beaches, we will fight you in the streets, we will never surrender" The rest of us can only hope that the actions match the words and that the message finally starts to sink in.
Monday, 8 August 2011
I feel a bit sorry for the Police, who are visibly struggling to keep what is essentially a snowballing level of gratuitous disorder and violence under some sort of control. Who did what to whom in respect of the initial arrest of the "armed gangsta"/"community elder" which sparked it all off last week is still under investigation. Rumours abound, and in the absence of hard information, gain currency as 'facts' - if x number of people tweet it, it must be true? The officers on the street have their work cut out being in the right place at the right time.
There are victims in all this. Mercifully, no-one else has yet lost their life in the ensuing violence. But innocent people will lose their cars, their possessions, their livelihoods in the wanton destruction. A couple of hundred arrests have reportedly been made. When the police take time out from simply maintaining some semblance of order to trawl through mounds of witness statements and CCTV footage, there may be more. What will happen? A few of those responsible may be prosecuted. Leaving aside the idiot who apparently photographed himself online proudly displaying all his looted goodies, who else is going to be held accountable for what they've done over the last few nights? And what's going to happen to them... these much-advertised "consequences"? Fines which they won't pay, Community service work which they won't do, and - if the 'Beak' is feeling really vindictive - maybe even a brief spell in jail (a good chunk of which they'll get out of - 'time spent on remand' - and which will probably be overturned on appeal anyway).
Oh- and I see it's now spreading.... to Birmingham. "West Midlands Police said it was aware of some disorder in Birmingham city centre, including some vandalised shops and incidents of theft" That's OK, then: the local 'Five-O' is on the case!
Friday, 5 August 2011
I'm old enough - just - to remember the last few instances of the death penalty being applied before it was abolished in the late 1960s. Over the years, there has undeniably been a measure of fairly widespread public support for its re-introduction, growing noticeably whenever a particularly gruesome or horrific murder is committed. The United States is the last remaining "civilized" country which retains it, albeit in diminishing numbers, and I don't think anyone in this country wants to see American-style 'Death Rows', where condemned prisoners spend a decade or more slowly exhausting a series of long-winded appeals processes.
So I doubt somehow that the petitioners have any realistic chance of seeing their aspirations put into practice. If on the other hand our Parliamentarians can be persuaded that some of the current sentences being handed down are woefully inadequate for the crimes that have been committed, then perhaps some good will come of it all.
Oh, and I daresay that exactly the same logic could be and will be applied to the restoration of caning in schools.
Monday, 18 July 2011
Who's next, I wonder? I don't take either resignation as indicative of guilt as such - that particular question will be for the forthcoming inquiry to uncover: there undoubtedly are (or were) those for whom time is ticking away inexorably before their number is up. For the moment, however, it's refreshing to see highly-paid senior public officials at last doing the decent thing and taking responsibility for their actions and their decisions - especially the "crap" ones.
Acceptance of one's shortcomings, and of the 'buck stops here' principle seems to be a rare commodity nowadays, and so I trust I may be forgiven for expressing the opinion that others would do well to emulate their example - perhaps starting with Ms "I don't 'do' blame" Shoesmith, of Baby Peter notoriety.
Friday, 8 July 2011
And not undeservedly so. For to branch out - apparently - into "tapping" the innermost thoughts and words of perfectly innocent people whose only claim to fame is that they had the misfortune to be caught up in the death of their loved ones is, in the eyes of most people, stooping below the level for which even the worst of the gutter press have long been renowned. What, and who, will be uncovered as the mystery unravels remains to be seen. But the "power of the press", as it devours one of its own, is I think going to be an interesting spectacle.
Thursday, 30 June 2011
I can't help feeling that the teachers have jumped the gun a bit - egged on by other unions who are quite obviously spoiling for a fight over this. Although at the moment they're still enjoying a reasonable modicum of public support, what I would suspect is eventually going to happen is that some sort of compromise will be reached whereby existing accrued benefits will be safeguarded, but increases will be phased in over the next x number of years.
At the same time, it has to be said that successive governments have made a fair-sized rod for their own back here. It's not as if someone suddenly looked at a set of figures last week and thought "OMG - look: people are living ten years longer - we haven't got any money to pay their pensions!" When I was still at work six years ago there was a growing shortfall identified in the Local Government Pension Scheme which looked likely to result in us paying more into it, and working longer before reaping the benefits - and it was consequently already causing industrial unrest back then.
As ye sow, so shall ye reap.
Tuesday, 28 June 2011
So I was very saddened to read today's story of the two police dogs left to die in a hot car on Sunday morning. Every summer, despite the warnings put out by animal welfare organizations, dogs are left by irresponsible owners to suffer in cars which become like ovens in a matter of minutes, and the fact that a trained, experienced police dog handler could have made the same "mistake" is almost beyond belief. I have only what's been reported in the news to go on, so I've no idea what mitigating circumstances might be put forward to account for it, but the fact that apparently the officer had been censured once before for allowing the same thing to happen doesn't sit at all well with me. I'm not against the idea of giving people second chances - but surely it's part of the deal that you learn from your mistake and you don't screw up a second time? Despite the best efforts of the poor vet to save them, the two dogs got no second chance.
Monday, 20 June 2011
Looking back over the last year - well, nine months actually - one of the things that's really struck me was how much of my French surfaced again from my schooldays: sentence structures, grammar and vocabulary, long forgotten as I'd thought, suddenly reappearing as if it had been only yesterday. Probably a good thing, as the two languages are very similar and I must say I found it a useful clue on many occasions remembering back to how I was taught to say something in French and working from that to find the Italian equivalent instead of trying to "translate" direct from English.
Although I haven't *yet* got a qualification from it, the standard we've reached now from what I can make out is roughly equivalent to a basic GCSE. There's a series of higher-level courses, the first of which will be a 'Lower Intermediate' starting next year, and we're hoping to keep the same day/time slot which will be ideal for me, and nice too as the class has tended "gel" as a group. I've just got to keep practising over the long summer holiday so that I don't go and forget it all again!
Wednesday, 15 June 2011
I remember so little of my infants' classes at Corsham County Primary School that I've no idea whether I was streamed or not by the age of 7. Being a small-ish village school, I would suspect not as there probably wouldn't have been enough of us to make more than one class. Minden Row Junior School was a different story, where my school reports show that from the 'Reception' class, I was put up a year, to Class 2A and then 3A and finally 4A - bearing out the report's finding that autumn-born children are 'over-represented' in the top stream. That isn't altogether rocket science, though, as because of the way school years and initial start dates are set, autumn-born children will normally - unlike me - be the oldest in the class.
Going on to Leamington College for Boys, I was in a non-streamed First Form, but thereafter once again in the top stream - although in the 4th and 5th Forms (the modern Years 10 & 11) for most of our O level subjects we were taught in 'sets', made up according to the number of pupils wanting to take that particular subject. Only for English, Maths and French I think were we taught as a Form.
Without reading too much into the report's conclusion that pupils with "behavioural problems" are more likely to be in the bottom set, it has to be said I think that an awful lot of difficulties arise if you try and teach a mixed-ability class with a wide differential between the most able pupils and the least able - because straightaway you start with a mismatch between teaching level and ability, the frustration and boredom from which is liable to make the problem worse. And everything gets dumbed down to the average - or in the worst cases, to the lowest common denominator.
It's been suggested that 'setting' for areas like literacy and numeracy (aka English and Maths) is a good idea. Possibly. I started off, according to my Junior school reports, having a reading ability in advance of my age group, but at one stage was getting only D or E+ for Maths. Whereas by the time I took my O levels, I got a Grade 2 for Maths, but only a 6 for English Language.
It'll be interesting to see how the pupils who were studied in the survey have fared in ten years' time.
Monday, 13 June 2011
But just where does this sort of thing stop? Am I to be identified for referral to an alcohol advisory service if I happen to buy more than one bottle of wine? Or maybe some counselling for obesity on the strength of the regular bag of jam doughnuts? Fortunately, I should find it relatively easy to avoid the "Colleague engagement director's" next whizzo idea as I only ever use self-service checkouts now (and I make sure I turn the 'voice' off before I start!)
Wednesday, 8 June 2011
As is usually the case with these stories, some of the comments people have made are quite interesting. I think it's fairly common for pupils to have to wear correct school uniform when sitting exams - we certainly had to, and after all, the school is normally paying the fees. 'A' level candidates generally don't any more, but then few if any state schools nowadays require the wearing of school uniform by sixth-formers.
In all fairness, it does seem as if the school may be a little guilty of enforcing its uniform policy inconsistently. To get into the situation where upwards of a hundred pupils had to be sent home to change shoes, as reportedly happened back in February this year, seems to denote a fairly widespread disregard for the rules which went unchecked for a term or more. While the exam season may perhaps not be the best time to pick to have a clamp-down, pour encourager les autres is nevertheless a valid enough message to send out.
Sunday, 5 June 2011
So I was interested to read this article in today's papers. Apparently, in the course of a radio programme, someone made the (scripted) jocular remark "It's the Tories who have put the 'n' into cuts." I didn't listen to the programme in question, so I can't comment on whether it was in keeping with the general tone and theme of the programme, but as the newspaper article correctly points out, on a "Richter scale" of offensive four-letter words, the one which was alluded to still comes fairly near the top in most peoples' estimation.
But... she didn't actually say it. It's arguably just following on in the great tradition of programmes such as "Round the Horne", where the innuendo invariably ensured that any smuttiness was purely in the ear of the beholder. There's less justification in my mind for the argument that people don't pay their TV licence money to listen to obscenities. The "He who pays the piper calls the tune" line of reasoning carries weight up to a point, but if - say - an advertising sponsor is paying for it, does that make it any more palatable?
Language, and peoples' use of it, is constantly evolving. Over the weekend, I also spotted this news item suggesting that the word "chav" is becoming a no-no (you'll notice I didn't use asterisks to partially blank it). Whether, in years to come, it will warrant being blanked, asterisked or banned from exposure on TV, remains to be seen. I am not "demonising" anyone, I simply use it to describe "a young lower-class person typified by brash and loutish behaviour and the wearing of (real or imitation) designer clothes." (Oxford English Dictionary definition). Innit.
Saturday, 21 May 2011
Driven I assume by the government's demands for public spending cuts, the proposals amount to the closure of 16 libraries, cuts in opening hours at all but one I think of the remaining ones, and consequent reductions in staff. The rationale behind it is declining levels of use, to the point at which those scheduled for the chop are "unsustainable in their current form" - including two which I remember being built from new during my last few years there.
Interestingly, one of the options on offer is to try and get the locals to take over the running of "their" library: what support there's going to be for this idea remains to be seen, but it was a concept that I recall was in fairly common use back in the 1950s - not that long before I started work. On the other hand, if no-one's willing to do it, then presumably the closures will go ahead, leaving large areas of the county without a library, although perhaps not - arguably - a "library service".
And that I think is the underlying question which this sort of consultation tends to fudge. In the 21st century, do we actually still need libraries? The successful ones which will remain are being turned into one-stop shops, advice centres, cybercafes, rock concert halls and police stations. The "virtual library" will be in competition with Amazon Kindle and any number of helplines, online forums and bulletin boards. And you can always have a few paperbacks delivered along with the week's groceries. Or maybe the good villagers of Westbury-sub-Mendip had the right idea!
Thursday, 19 May 2011
So when we returned from Hong Kong in September 1959, it was time for me to start my secondary education. We sailed back in the 'Oxfordshire', a former troopship still at the time used to ferry service families around the world in the days before the advent of widespread cheap air travel. According to my sister, who would've been almost 18 by then and thus probably with a better memory of it, children of school age attended classes during the voyage, although I have no recollection whatever of it and have no idea what, if anything, I might have learned. Be that as it may, we docked at Southampton on 20th September, and went to stay in some temporary Army accommodation at Dover while the details of my father's next posting were finalized.
Part of the old Dover Citadel, a fortress dating from Napoleonic times, had been converted into Married Families' Quarters, and we had our meals in the Officers' Mess - which I was surprised to discover is in fact still standing nowadays, though much of the rest of the area is in ruins. Somewhat to my dismay, I was told I had to attend Dover Grammar School for boys, even though it was unlikely to be for more than a few weeks. At the age of ten - I was still a couple of weeks short of my eleventh birthday - it was my first taste of grammar school, and I hated it. Undoubtedly part of the trouble was that unlike all the other schools I'd ever been to, I knew this one was only temporary and so I just didn't see the point of making the effort to settle in and make friends only to be uprooted again straightaway. I wasn't even in the same boat as all the other kids like I had been at Minden Row, which was a Service Childrens' School. With its grey stone walls and columned archways surrounding the archaically named "Quad", it seemed very forbidding, and in my fertile imagination a bit like a medieval monastery although I don't imagine it's nearly as old. The Headmaster, whose name I've long since forgotten, struck me as very stern and authoritarian, especially as in one of those trivial things that obstinately sticks in the mind for years and years after the event, I got into trouble in the first few days for not wearing a school cap: my mother simply hadn't been able to buy me one in the correct size.
As things turned out, I couldn't have been there much more than three or four weeks when I caught one of those common but highly infectious childhood illnesses that everyone got back in the days before MMR jabs became all the rage. My mother kept me off school, and in the meantime the details of my father's next posting came through. I tried to persuade her that it really wasn't worth my going back there just for a final week or so, and she rather uncharacteristically took the line of least resistance and agreed. Thus by November we were off on our way up to the Midlands.
Despite my initial inauspicious introduction to a grammar school education, I settled in very quickly and easily at Leamington College for Boys with my customary resilience and adaptability: I did very well and was very happy there - no doubt much to my mother's relief. In fact she confided in me many years later that she'd always known Dover had been the one school I'd never settled in at.
Thursday, 12 May 2011
When I was his age, it was the norm for boys to wear short trousers all through Junior School, only graduating to long ones as first formers around the age of 12 - in something almost akin to a rite of passage. So I doubt if any of us would've wanted to revert back to being little boys in shorts, however hot the weather might've been. And skirts were not an item of uniform in an all-boys school!
I noted with interest that his teacher was quoted as commending his "independence" and "individuality", and it was rather innovative of him to have spotted the loophole in the school's uniform policy which didn't specify that skirts could only be worn by girls. Nevertheless, whatever she may have said to him in private, her public stance on it made a refreshing change from the clumsy ineptitude with which schools generally seem to handle pupil protests. On that note, it does occur to me to wonder who's been orchestrating the publicity which all this seems to have attracted?
Friday, 8 April 2011
It's not entirely clear whether the school *oops, sorry, "community college"* didn't previously have the rules or just wasn't enforcing them. But it's hard to actually find fault with a clear basic framework of what is regarded as acceptable standards of behaviour, and my mother certainly never showed any sympathy if I was punished for doing something I knew I'd been told not to.
Wednesday, 6 April 2011
It's odd in a way that I now think back so nostalgically as I'm certain I didn't feel like that at the time. I just wanted to get through school and get out of there,which is probably why I never really gave it so much as a backward glance: I don't think there ever have been any "reunions" as such anyway, and I didn't keep in touch with anyone much after I'd left. Whatever the line of reasoning, I do now enjoy looking back with some affection: my education had more of a lasting effect on me that I ever gave it credit for and it's certainly nice to swap reminiscences with other ex-pupils albeit coloured with the benefit of hindsight.
Wednesday, 30 March 2011
Sunday, 27 March 2011
But a year later, I look back - with affection - and I move on. I don't want to go back and re-involve myself in it, any more than I want to go back and re-live any other aspect of my childhood or adult life. I take the things I learned, the things I enjoyed, the memories I have... and I treasure them. I say goodbye to the friends I left behind, some of whom had already moved on and found different directions in their lives even before I did. New members have already taken their place, and mine too. I wish them, and the site, well: if they're half as happy belonging to the community as I was, then their lives will be fuller and richer for it.
Wednesday, 16 March 2011
Saturday, 12 March 2011
I also got given a set of "competence statements" - something which is a cross between a certificate and a report card, with a list of 25 possible attainments out of which I managed 22. Those which are not ticked are:
-I can write a simple note or letter to a friend to accept an offer or invitation, thank someone or apologize
-I can fill in a questionnaire giving an account of my educational background, my job, my interests
-I can use the imperfect [tense]
Of those, I could in fact manage the first, as I've exchanged emails with people in Italian a couple of times on that sort of theme. The second I would probably struggle a bit with depending on the level of detail the "questionnaire" required. But the third is plain sailing: I learned how to use the imperfect tense (and the pluperfect as well) when I was learning Italian before and even after 45 years I haven't forgotten it - though I didn't really have occasion to use it when doing the various homework exercises we were set.
Anyway, the score was enough to earn me a Grade A pass and while I hope I'm not going to sound conceited when I say I'd have been disappointed with anything less, the fact that I've enjoyed doing it so much has definitely been the icing on the cake.
The next term starts in May, when we'll apparently be doing a lot more oral work!
Saturday, 26 February 2011
Flushed with the success of my little venture in porn stardom on X-Tube, I've now done a sequel. The artstic content is better (or at least, I thought so) but unfortunately the technical quality isn't - it's a bit jerky and pixellated, so that's something I've got to work on.
Amazingly, I'm already starting to attract something of a "friend" following, which perhaps rather unwisely is going to encourage me to make some more. Which brings me to the point of this: the two I've done so far don''t feature heels (though I was wearing heels when I recorded the first one). I've already half-promised someone a video of me "modelling" a pair of leather thighboots, so if there's anything in similar vein that anyone would like to see.... I'm open to suggestions.
In the meantime, if you'd like to see a clip of me making an exhibition of myself in a pair of white lacy girlie panties, complemented by a rather sexy tight girdle... here you go:
Me in panties and girdle
Monday, 14 February 2011
But we're getting a refurbished bathroom out of the deal, so I daresay I can learn to live without my daily wallow and make do with a brisk in-and-out instead. Although I've heard you can do very innovative and kinky things with shower nozzles - cleaning the parts other methods cannot reach. So I may yet get to like this new regime after all!
Saturday, 12 February 2011
I was intrigued last week when I came across some pics of guys wearing them, and somewhat to my surprise as I'd never really been particularly keen on them as a garment, felt sufficiently tempted to try one. It arrived this morning!
My initial reaction, as I put it on, was.... "My God, these things are tight!" I'd gone for a size 12 (medium) on account of that being the nearest match to my hip size, though at a 30" waist I realized in that respect it was small for me. However, being designed for a female build rather than a male, there has to be compromise and I guessed that the fit over the hips was probably the more important of the two.
I've been girdled now for twelve hours, including a brief outing to the shops in it at lunchtime. The feeling is amazing. It's slightly more comfortable standing or lying down than sitting, but maybe a bigger one would make that less obvious. I love the constant squeezy huggy feeling though, and certainly being now in something designed for long-term wear, I'm confident of going the full "advertised" 18 hours and enjoying every minute of it.
The one thing I cannot do is go for a quick pee in it: that entails partially undressing and sitting down to it. I don't actually have a problem with that, but for some reason I've never fully understood a lot of guys do, and so I just thought I'd mention it!
Oh - and the pic is a rather grainy pixellated still from a webcam video I made of myself in it this afternoon!
Friday, 4 February 2011
"i tacchi a punta" we were told is apparently the correct way of expressing it, coupled with the height of the heel in centimetres. So.. given that I absolutely love wearing 5" stiletto-heeled knee-boots... I reckon I'm going to have quite a bit of fun doing this weeek's homework!
Wednesday, 2 February 2011
I must confess to being very intrigued by the idea of wearing balletboots. As you'll see, not many guys you come across on video can actually walk in them, and most in fact can hardly stand. But as a hot bedroom item, on the other hand..... Anyway, I don't want to give too much of the 'plot' away:
Tuesday, 1 February 2011
The basic contradiction, if you like, of TV/TS in a porn context is the combination of very huge and obvious boobs juxtaposed with an equally huge and obvious cock - or at least that's what came across from the photos he'd sent and I imagine they're all pretty much the same. What little there was of the costumes was quite appealing: in particular I spotted a zip-front (or rather half-unzipped) white PVC corset-thingy which looked pretty hot, but overall the effect - for me - was ruined by the very ostentatious boob job, and I'd have much preferred a hot guy, looking like a guy, dressed in the same outfit, and I told him so.
That, though, I guess rather defeats the main point of TV porn, which is that the stars look in most respects obviously like females, and the male psyche responds to big boobs as the usual manifestation of that - so I'm probably in the minority in not liking them much. I'd certainly cross being a TV porn star off my list of possible career options, anyway.
Thursday, 27 January 2011
Since I first started posting pictures of myself wearing them in the spring of last year, they've rapidly become, I think, the most popular category of photo I've uploaded. So when someone asked me if I could take some photos of me in them perhaps wearing tight shorts or "a denim miniskirt" it sounded to me like a perfect opportunity to show off my leather miniskirt, together with some fishnet tights - and the boots, of course.
Sunday, 23 January 2011
So, when I thought that perhaps the High Heel Place sounded a cool one to belong to, I duly filled in a registration form and awaited the email with the validation link to complete the process. Normally, that's all there is to it with these things. So I was a bit surprised to find that they have a second stage which entails approving the account (presumably by an actual person) before you can do anything that you weren't able to before. I awaited another email......
I discovered it in my spam box. It said my registration had been removed, as it "did not meet our membership requirements". There followed a list of five standard possible reasons, including unsuitable usernames, porn spamming, duplicate registrations, guys masqerading as girls (it asks on the registration form what sex you are) and faked country of origins - but it just bluntly said "Sorry" at the end. It's all apparently to save themselves the hassle of dealing with problematic users by not letting them join in the first place. Right! There's no way of querying it: it didn't seem to have occurred to them that they might actually have made a mistake.
They have to win a prize to start with I think for one of the most bizarre registration procedures I've come across - either the system validates and accepts them upfront or else a person checks first, but not both. It's their loss, anyway: from what I saw of it their site didn't seem to have anything exceptional. Either way, I can tell when I'm not wanted!
Tuesday, 18 January 2011
"Hi there buddy, how are ya doin?" he started.
"Look, I'm sorry, but I really don't have time for this now"
His next piece of repartee from the script vanished into the night air as I shut the front door.
Back in the house, the dialogue went like this:
"Who was that at the door?"
"Some b****** doorstep salesman"
"What was he selling"
"Dunno - I didn't let him get that far"
"Well how d'you know he was a salesman"
"When someone you've never clapped eyes on before smarms all over you like you're a long-lost friend without saying who he is first, it's a dead giveaway"
As I finished getting the tea, I reflected on the times I used to go knocking on doors, years ago when I went out canvassing. The people who said "No" upfront were a godsend when you were getting paid £x for a fixed number of houses: you'd get the whole thing done and dusted in no time. You could do without the ones who messed around pretending to be out while surreptitiously peering through a crack in the curtains, the ones who yelled at you through the letterbox, not to mention the ones who asked if you could come back when their husband/boyfriend/parents were in - or the "I'm just the babysitter".
It occurred to me afterwards that I'd answered the door wearing a pair of sheer black tights and a red T-Shirt with "Smile if you wish you were gay" written across the front. When you go round knocking on peoples' doors you see it all, believe me!
Sunday, 16 January 2011
Thursday, 13 January 2011
I was in Form 3L at the time, at the age of 13. I almost didn't spot myself on it: I seem to have quite an earnest expression for some reason. Maybe it was the thought of the haircut that my mother had obviously told me to get beforehand! Whatever the background to it, I don't suppose for one minute that I was envisaging that I'd be reflecting on the significance of it all some five decades later!
Tuesday, 11 January 2011
My old junior school - Minden Row - I have a very indistinct mental picture of. I think it was quite small: the main part of the building I recollect was old, with a verandah and rooms with high ceilings. We were taken there every day in the "school bus" - a three-ton army truck - picking up pupils along the way, but I can't any longer even place exactly where it was. There's still a street in the Tsim Sha Tsui district of Kowloon called Minden Row, after which the school was presumably named but nothing on a modern map to indicate where it once stood. I'd always assumed that in any case British service schools wouldn't have survived the demise of Hong Kong as a British colony in 1997: there would've been no obvious need for them after that?
But last night I came across some old maps scanned and posted on Flickr - and there was one of Tsim Sha Tsui in the 1960s! Looking intently at the full-size image, I could just about make out the words 'Minden Row School' on one of the buildings there - at the far end of the street where we once used to go every morning! A bit further down towards the bottom of the map (within walking distance) was a green space marked "playground": I bet that would've been where we had our games periods, and where instead of playing, I used to surreptitiously watch the trains going by along the tracks of the Kowloon-Canton railway on the far side!
I was pleased with my little unexpected discovery. There's next to nothing anywhere about the school: it perhaps wasn't used as a school for very long, I don't know. But I still remember my time there with a certain amount of affection, if not - sadly - any degree of clarity.