Sandy speaks on matters of life and mirth.
Monkeys are seldom present.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Memory

I sat in the back of the car, and I watched as my mother-in-law slipped a sweet out of the bag. Something caught at my memory, and I frowned. I recognised the packaging - the red Bassett's logo, the green text... the way the wrapper curled around at the edges - even the sound the hard pastille made as it was unwrapped. I tilted my head, and I knew immediately what it would taste like, what the texture would feel like, pressed against the inside of my cheek - the raised dots rubbing against it, the sugar inside teased out, causing a kind of numbness. I took one, and as if in a half-remembered dream, I pulled the two ends gently, slid the hard pastille out of the crinkled wrapping.

I put the Sherbet Lemon in my mouth, and I remembered.

I was twelve, maybe thirteen, and I wrote for the school newspaper. We were a tiny prep school, barely 170 pupils, and so the scope of the articles wasn't particularly grand - an expose on the removal of chocolate splodge pudding here, an appeal for the older boys to be allowed to sit on chairs at assemblies there - hardly Watergate, but we got by. The newspaper was 10p, and I remember that we used to give away a sherbet lemon with each one - it was an early exposure to 'value-added' marketing. We never sold many newspapers - even fewer when I became editor, but we got by, and given that parents print-shop published the newspaper, there were never any costs to cover. What little money we made went to sponsor a young boy in Africa somewhere. His name was Issa, and he used to send us letters. I wish I knew what happened to him. The newspaper was short-lived, and didn't survive my leaving the school, but for a while, it was important. I hadn't thought of it in years - The Chorister News. I wish I still had a copy.

It was an unimportant memory, but it was a good one. Sometimes, that's all that matters.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Dear Mr Gove, Thank You for Devaluing My Education

So I saw this today, and it kind of frustrated me. I've become used to the standard stories every July and August of how A-levels are too easy, how they don't really mean anything any more, and how the youth of today are probably stupider than previous generations. These stories, of course, come out just when students are receiving their results, so that, at the moment when they should feel proudest of themselves, they are told that their achievements should carry an asterisk.

So when I read that Michael Gove wants to change to A-Level systems, I figured it was just another July "Exams? You were lucky! When I were a lad..." kind of story, and was ready to dismiss it. On further reading though, I became intrigued:
[Gove] said he wanted to switch emphasis back to examinations taken at the end of two years of study in order to revive "the art of deep thought".

Really Michael? The art of Deep Thought? Now I have no idea what that phrase means, but I'm guessing you want it to mean 'students being able to write long essays in three hour exams potentially two years after they studied the topic the question is about'. Which to me, seems a little silly.

Regular examinations encourage you to stay on top of your learning. Modular exams allow you to focus on one topic at a time, and thus to study it in more depth. One exam at the end of two years encourages you to kick back and do nothing for those years, and then cram in a mad panic. Of course, if that's what you mean by Deep Thought, I suppose that's fine.

But hang on, Mr Gove says:
"We need to ensure that the knowledge expected of A-level students is such that they can hit the ground running (at university) and they don't need, as some have suggested, four-year courses or catch-up tuition"
His argument is that we should make A-Levels more like university exams, so that people are more prepared for university. That makes sense I suppose... until you realise that universities have exams at the end of every year, not every two! Added to the fact that many universities are moving to, yes, a modular system, and you start to wonder whether Mr Gove knows what on Earth he is talking about. Where are these universities that have two years between exams?

Oh, I see. Well, good to know where our priorities lie, right?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

An Angry Rant About The England Football Team

You know how I'm usually the person who calls for restraint and to give managers time? The one who says that managers get to much blame for poor performances? Not this time. Fabio needs to go - ridiculous starting elevens (Heskey up-front next to Rooney... twice. Upson when Carragher was available, Ledley King who clearly wasn't going to last ninety minutes), ridiculous substitutions (WHY was Gareth Barry, a defensive midfielder, still on the pitch when we were two goals down? And then Heskey... for DEFOE? And why the hell was Milner taken off?); ridiculous over-loyalty to players (Rooney and Lampard played every minute of every game, and were pathetic); ridiculous formations (remember Rooney in left midfield in the the USA game?); and to top it all off, ridiculously poor performances from supposedly elite players in the biggest competition they will ever play in.

 I don't care how much it costs, we need to start over - let's get a manager with proven international credentials (Guus Hiddink?) and tell him to start with a blank slate - no-one is an automatic selection any more. We should pick our best player (probably Rooney, although you'd never know it from this tournament) and build the whole team around him - players are only selected based on their ability to help Rooney score goals. Either that, or go with my previous idea of using the team that wins the Championship that year. 

OK, Rant over. No, wait, no it isn't! Have you heard all the England players? They're blaming the no-goal, and saying that the scoreline doesn't reflect the tempo of the game. Why are they being allowed to get away with this? The team played crap, and they LOST BY THREE GOALS, not one! Fabio should be doing a Marcello Lippi and apologising. The scary thing is, Germany weren't even that good - we gifted them at least three of their goals. Argentina could probably have scored seven or eight. It's time to start again. We may not be the best footballing nation on Earth, but we're better than THAT.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

David Cameron's Arm Longer Than Previously Advertised

Sunday, May 09, 2010

A Short Explanation of Why British Politics is Messed Up

So I was speaking to an American friend, who was asking why electoral reform was so important, and what was wrong with the system that we had. I came up with this example as the best way of explaining it:

Imagine you live on a desert island. (Not like the one on Lost - this one doesn't have a make-up department) On the island with you are 99 other people. You decide that, in order to survive, you will need a group of ten people to be in charge, with one of those people further selected to be the Chief. So, you have an election, right? Everyone votes once for their preferred candidate, and the five people with the most votes get to be the ruling council, and the one with the highest vote total gets to be chief. This makes sense to everyone, and is very simple to organise.

The British electoral system is NOTHING like this.

Let us return to our island. Imagine, if you will, that we are having our election once more. Only this time, instead of having 100 inhabitants, there are 1000. So, let us expand our number of representatives to 100. Now, we have a problem - 100 people are unlikely to be able to reach a consensus through discussion alone, and so we introduce a system of voting - if a representative likes an idea, they vote yes, if they don't, they vote no. An idea requires more 'yes' votes than 'no' votes to be passed. The representatives are still voted for by the population, with the 100 people getting the most votes getting to be representatives, and once more, the person who has the highest vote total gets to be Chief.

The British electoral system is A BIT like this.

Once more, back to the island. We still have our thousand voters, our hundred representatives, but now, the people are spread out a bit, and so the representatives are assigned to a specific geographical location. The people who live round the waterhole get to vote for one representative, the people who live on the beach get to vote for one representative, and so on. The Chief is decided by all the representatives getting one vote for who among them they would like to be in charge.

The British electoral system is KIND OF like this.

For the last time, we return to the island. This time, the areas that elect a representative are all different sizes, with the largest comprising five times as many people as the smallest. People who don't subscribe to one of three sets of largely interchangeable sets of values have no chance of becoming representatives. When, inevitably, someone from 'The Big Three' is chosen as a representative, their ability to disagree with the other people who say they hold those values is almost non-existent, reducing them to little more than puppets. The three value sets, despite being broadly similar, are so antagonistic towards one another that any idea proposed by anyone will only be agreed upon if the people who came up with it have more representatives than anyone else, and so are able to force it through. Any discussion is treated more as an opportunity to score points off other people, so much so that the second largest group of representatives has the official title of 'The Opposition'. Oh, and the chief? The leader of the biggest value set gets to be Chief... no matter how many votes he got, regardless of what the population of the island think of him.

The British electoral system is EXACTLY like this.

Except that we don't live on a desert island. It rains. All the time.

Now do you understand why we need electoral reform?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Thank Goodness I'm Never Miked

So this story really bugged me.

Basically, Gordon Brown spoke to a woman briefly on camera, and then got into a car, and got frustrated about his inability to answer the woman's questions succinctly. He made a few remarks, including calling her a 'bigoted woman'. Unbeknownst to him, his microphone was still on, and the Sky news crew decided to broadcast it, and play it to the woman in question.

I'm not going to talk about my views on the Prime Minister, but I promise you that who I'm going to vote for has nothing to do with my opinion on this incident, which put briefly, is this: this was a low-down dirty trick by Sky News that was all about sensationalism and nothing about journalism. The clip should never have been broadcast.

Gordon Brown was having a private conversation about a woman he had met for all of thirty seconds, with close advisors. I work at a High School, and I have said plenty of things about the kids that I work with which, if played to their parents, would cause me to have to do a heap of explaining. Do I always mean them? No. Usually, they're said in the heat of the moment, and there is a reason the conversation is private. Sky News invaded Gordon Brown's privacy, and they should be apologising profusely themselves.

How does playing this clip serve the country's best interests? How does it do anything but cause scandal and gossip about an incident that frankly, doesn't matter. I'm sure David Cameron and Nick Clegg have said things just as bad in private, and I think they should have a right to.

To put it simply, I'm pissed off that this is the level that our newscasters have lowered themselves to. Shame on you, Sky News.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Things I Remember From Growing Up in the Nineties - The Sodastream

Get Busy With the Fizzy

This may have been the coolest thing ever when I was growing up. I tried to explain the concept of having a machine that could make fizzy drinks to the teenagers that I teach - they just didn't really get it. "But you could have all different flavours!" I argued. "And it cost significantly less than buying bottles of the stuff!" They looked at me blankly. "You could also choose how concentrated you made each drink!"

In desperation, I showed them this advert. It didn't help.