Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Reviewing 2013

Everyone says the years fly by, and this one is now almost over, but can you remember everything that's happened in the past 365 days, or even the bigger stories?

I guess we'll all remember the deaths of Nelson Mandela and Margaret Thatcher, but how about the 1129 who died in the building collapse in Dhaka in April, or the 6149 who died because of Typhoon Haiyan in November?
     In other news, this was also the year of Edward Snowden, the 3D printer, a meteor over Russia, Pope Francis and Prince George. Will I remember all this in years to come, maybe, maybe not, but there are some things I will recall, things that are a little more personal...

I graduated with a 2:1 in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University, and then stayed on to do a PGCE, which I am now part way through.

I visited the Cathedrals of Salisbury and St Pauls for the first time, as part of my job with Bath Abbey, which I finished in July.

I fractured my left arm during what turned into something of an epic cycle ride (see more here: http://jbayes-insideoutside.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/an-unexpected-journey.html)

I was in the crowd on the first two days of the summer Ashes series at Trent Bridge, a victorious series, although that certainly seems a long time ago given the current situation in Australia.

The weirdest moment of the year would have to be when ITV rang me up to ask if I was interested in auditioning for 'Take me out', I declined, but it was flattering none the less!

The most memorable days, though, are easily the best ones, and it is hard to call between them.
     I guess the most exciting individual day would be seeing the mighty Nottinghamshire Outlaws cricket team win the trophy at Lords Cricket Ground, my first visit to the famous venue. I love sport. I love the competition and the way it unifies people. Next year sees the Winter Olympics and the Commonwealth games and I hope both will help to bring greater peace between people and nations.
     For me though the best thing I did this year was driving through the Canadian Rockies with my sisters in June. It was a beautiful experience with mind-blowing scenery. Certainly something I won't forget.

This has been my 100th blog post, thank you to everyone who has taken time to indulge me by reading them. Watch out for more in 2014!

Have a very happy and blessed New Year!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Maths Test

Christmas is coming, the last week of term,
We've had our class party
Then the teacher says, "Maths test!"

Last week of term, handing out cards,
Now an hour of silence (sort of)
Because the teacher said, "Maths test!"

Handing out cards, and presents too,
There's a tree in the corner,
And the teacher says, "Maths test!"

Why, oh why, Miss, must we do a maths test?
It's the last week of term, Miss, we just want a rest.
Can't we play games, Miss, that's much more fun.
"Don't worry," she says, "You'll soon be done."

Christmas is coming, just want to go home,
I'm tired of working,
But I've finished the Maths test!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Discussing Christmas Trees

So I had a conversation with a pupil about Christmas Trees today. This was how it went:

Pupil: We put our tree up last night, it has 366 lights on it.

Me: Wow! It must be big!

Pupil: No, we only got a small one this year.

Me: Oh, you mean like our class tree. (I pointed at our tree, which seems to be pretending to be a 3 foot bush)

Pupil: No, it's 10 feet tall.

Me: What! That's taller than I am. (I thought, 'she must be confused')

Pupil: Yeah, well we usually get a 21 foot tree, but Dad decided not to this year.

Me: Err, do you live in a castle?

Pupil: No, we just have a very high ceiling.

(Then she left)

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Who is Vygotsky, again?

Nothing particularly funny or interesting happening at the moment. This is the time on a PGCE course when there's nothing for it but to invent a load of waffle and make vague connections to some academic from eighty-seven years ago - I mean, of course, critically analyse observations I have made into the learning theories of Piaget and Vygotsky (can't even pronounce their names).

Christmas feeling has arrived, but it would be much better without the looming deadline. School is bedecked, against the wishes of several self-proclaimed scrooges on the staff, and I have even received a couple of cards from children, who will now be getting A*s on their next piece of homework, or something like that.
     The days and lessons are definitely become less structured. Literacy this week was all about writing instructions, so the children spent 2 hours doing origami and a confused 10 minutes trying to explain in writing how to make a paper frog, or 300, which was about how many they'd made by this time. I guess that counts as something funny and potentially interesting!

Happy Saturday everyone!

Friday, 6 December 2013

Equality and Diversity

This week my school downed the timetable and had a week focused on Equality. There was discussion in the classrooms about rights and responsibilities and about diversity. Which made it an interesting week for Nelson Mandela to die.

It has crossed my mind that it might be a good idea to imprison all politicians for 27 years before they can take charge of a nation. It certainly changed the life of Mandela dramatically from a person of hatred to forgiveness. I hope there are many more world leaders like him to come.

On a totally unrelated subject Christmas approaches and therefore so do my deadlines, however the Uni continue to plug us with information until we're practically comatose, and even if it is interesting (see this link for the important work being done to save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/) I feel my time could have been better spent this week.

Oh well it's gone 8pm on a Friday night in December so I'm going to do something unrelated to work. I hope you are too.

Have a happy weekend!

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Time is short

So I'm very busy, but had to squeeze in another post before November is out (already!!).

My list of things to do looks like this:
  • Complete forms about my learning in Science, Maths and English
  • Continue some planning for lessons around a book
  • Fill out a review of the phonics programme that my placement school uses
  • Write up notes about some writing samples from kids in my class and annotate some other work that they have done
  • Add to my file for the term and make sure I'm ticking off all the required content
  • Oh, and plan and write a 2500 word essay at masters level by the 20th December.
Plus all the usual weekly reviews, prep for seminars in the coming week (readings, slide notes, etc) and of course write a blog post every now and then!

Aside from that I can tell you that I now have a cow named after me to go with the dove. Not sure this is quite as flattering, but oh well.

I also failed to win anything in the raffle at the school fair last night. I tried to point out that it's still November but apparently they like to get these things in early.
     My class prepared a fair trade stall, mostly manned by me, which took me back to the days when I worked in a fair trade shop. Still amazes me how hard it is to convince people that paying a bit more is fair, though.

Ah well. The sun is shining here. Might go for a walk later if I can freeze time. Enjoy your day!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Marking can be fun

Earlier this week the children in my class had to discuss with each other what they thought about democracy in Ancient Greece and to make it more fun the teacher made each of them either a Free-man, a 'Free' (or not so free) Woman, or a Slave. After looking at the facts they then wrote a sentence about how they felt about it. These are some of the best comments:

"I was a freeman and felt very powerful, but I don't like it that women don't get a say. I don't care about slaves because they have to work."  

"I was a slave and I felt like I had no self-worth."

"I am -- (Boy's name) and I was a lady and I feel hopeless."

"I was a woman but I feel so sad because he just give me what I don't want."

"I was a free man and I felt angry because women did not get their say. I also wanted to get into the government and change all of that."

"I was a freeman and I was angry because when I spoke my slave did not stop chattering."

"I was a freeman, I didn't care about anything, I'm more of a power seeker."

"I was a freeman but cross because my slave got angry, so I chopped his head off."

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

A Dove named Mr Bayes

Today I was honoured to be told that the newest arrival in a dovecot somewhere in Somerset (owned by the family of one of the children in my class) will be named after me. Survival rate amongst these doves isn't great however, because the sparrow-hawks often get them, or so I was told. Still it's not every day something gets named after you!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Getting cold

My week in brief...

It's getting cold, and I got a cold, but it's going away now (my cold, not the cold generally. In fact it's supposed to get colder - snow's coming!)

My tutor from Uni came to observe me and a girl in the class confided that she hoped he wouldn't take me away because she didn't want me to leave. After that I felt invincible and the lesson went about as smoothly as it's possible for a science lesson to go when you've got kids with guitars, elastic bands and glass bottles filled with water.

People keep mentioning the word that begins with 'C' and ends with 'mas' but they're not allowed to in front of me at least until December, I've got too much to do! Just a warning.

Happy Saturday everyone!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

A lesson in History

Full week 1 in school ticked off, and a few more observations. I have now recognised several well known characters in the classroom.
     Mr Sporty - nimble and quick, with good hand-eye coordination. Scored an easy hat-trick in hockey.
     Mr Precise - knows the full story of several Greek mythical beasts and twice told me that Columbus did not sail to America but a small island off the coast.
     Miss Stick-at-it-no-matter-what - pressed on all day with her writing despite a flu jab in her writing arm, even switching to her left hand before she allowed me to scribe for her.
     Miss Quiet-but-with-hidden-talents - small and apparently shy, but musically talented as she showed by singing for the whole class in show-and-tell. (One Direction never sounded better).

The class dynamics are interesting, overall it is a great class for a teacher, with no really difficult children and not a huge difference in ability. There is, however, a big split in the genders with 16 boys and only 10 girls at the moment. It is also a young class with only 4 birthdays before Christmas and half of the class born from April-August.

Yesterday I took my first whole lesson with all of the class. For them it was a lesson in History, for me it was a lesson in how to teach. I can say, however, that we got done everything I had planned and that the children could by the end tell me that 'AD' stood not for 'Anni Domino' but it's correct Latin pronunciation.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Official member

Today I was officially inaugurated: my height was added to the chart on the wall, and, not to be smug, but I'm the tallest in the class. Strangely it did make me feel extra tall, although this may just be the effect of standing up after sitting on those really low chairs, or being around lots of small people. Guess I'll just have to get used to it.

Friday, 1 November 2013

A little bit of magic

It's a new month! Think of all the possibilities that November holds!
For me it holds a lot of hours in school and a lot of work, but I'm going to see that as a good thing. My placement has been fun so far and hopefully that will continue.

This week has been half-term so I actually had a few days neither in school or Uni (although not without work) and I was able to take stock of what's happened in the past eight weeks, as well as think about everything that's got to happen in the next seven, before I get another afternoon off.

A few weeks ago it was mentioned by a member of staff that teachers, of course, aren't doing it for the money, but for the sense of pride in helping others. So I was somewhat surprised to hear they were going to strike, but strike they did. Most students took the Thursday off too, but for the few of us who opted to 'cross the picket line' (*ten, cold, people with a banner*) it turned out alright.

I feel the time has come for me to teach you something, so get a pen and a piece of paper and we'll begin.

Choose two three-digit numbers.
I'll use 468 and 615.
Were going to do a subtraction calculation, but one with a bit of magic. Please follow along with your numbers and try to keep up.

Put the bigger number on top.
   - 468
I don't know about yours, but mine isn't the easiest subtraction to make. So I'll replace my top number with 999.
   - 468
That's much easier. Looking down the columns I get the answer 531.

Now I'll add that to my original 'top' number.
  + 615

Now I'll remove the 1 from the front of my answer.
And then add it.
Which equals:
This is the answer to my sum.

If you followed the steps correctly, you will find that yours has worked too. I hope that impresses you as much as it did me. Now go and amaze your friends!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Mealworms and Locusts

It was break time when the whisper went around the staff room that a kid in Year 4 had brought in a locust as part of a class study on Egypt. Slowly a stream of teachers and assistants sneaked off the classroom (it was wet play) to see this for themselves.
     When I arrived a small crowd of children surrounded a boy who was holding a plastic tub in one hand and, sure enough, a locust in the other! Not only that but the boy next to him also had a plastic tub and no less than five small creatures that turned out to be mealworms.
     "They bite," he told me, "do you want to hold one?" Then he placed one in my hand where it proceeded to walk backwards (don't know why).
     Meanwhile the locust, which was about the size of my finger, with some pretty powerful legs, was beginning to hop. Fortunately the boy was quite protective of his unusual pet and put it back in the box.
     Just another day in school.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

A child's view of evaporation

A group of children were asked to explain what happened during evaporation. One replied, "Water is drunk (usually at night or when no-one is looking) by a small animal."
     This is an impressive and well thought out statement and I feel should have been commended by the teacher. I wish that it was true, because it is a much more imaginative and amusing way for water to disappear. I also wish I could catch one of these small animals in the act of drinking, although clearly that would be impossible.
     Ah, kids, they make teaching worthwhile.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

If only people would write like they speak

As I enter my seventh reading of the day (each one ranging from five to twenty-five pages) I notice that they are all written in a certain way, and that way is to make it as hard as possible to understand. They all use too many long words/sentences and I'm sure no-one really knows what on earth they mean. If only it was written in the way they would say it if they were stood in front of me, I'm sure I'd be fine and we could move on quickly, instead I'm stuck using my precious time trying to decipher:

"This chapter deals with the strategies needed for this elicitation phase of a constructivist approach..."

Please put any interpretations in e-mail to me with the heading, "Let's make things easy for ourselves"

Monday, 7 October 2013

Memory of a maths lesson

All this primary school work reminds me of when I was just a lad, sat at the tiny tables, trying to work out how to divide 15 by 3 and why it mattered.
     One particular maths lesson springs to mind, from Year 4. We were having a quiz, with each table as a team. After four questions three teams were tied in first place so the teacher decided that each team would have a tie-break question, but only one person from each team could answer it, and she would choose that person.
     I did a quick scan of my table and concluded that I was the best at maths. It wasn't arrogance, it was competitiveness, I wanted my team to win and knew that the best chance we had was if I took the question. However, how was I to get the teacher to choose me?
     In a moment of genius I began fiddling with my hands, making it appear as though I was distracted and bored. The first team answered their question and got it wrong, everything was going well. Now it was our turn. I remained thoroughly interested in anything but the teacher and the quiz. Then I heard her say, "Jonathan, you will answer the question."
     It had worked! I had gambled on her picking on someone who wasn't paying attention, as teachers often do, and she had fallen for my trap. Desperately hiding the joy at my success, I turned to hear her ask the question.
     It was easy, I responded immediately.
     "No," said the teacher, "that's incorrect."
     Of course it was, what had I said! I knew the correct answer, but as they say, 'pride comes before a fall'.
     The third team got their answer right, and I was left looking more than a little foolish, despite my moment of brilliance. Ah, the trials of childhood!

Friday, 4 October 2013

A day off

Today is a day off, by which I mean I am not required to be in either University or School, but of course am still reading, writing and trying to find all the bits of work I need to do, which Bath Spa have hidden all over the internet! (Getting there slowly).
     In other news, where did that storm come from last night? I've lived in Bath for over three years and I've barely even heard a roll of thunder let alone a full blown lightning display! Pity I was too tired to properly appreciate it.
     Consequently I'm having a very 'in' day today, but I should probably get on with some reflecting or reviewing or re-writing soon.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Placement - Day 1

I've come home with paint on my hands, that can only mean one thing - I've thrown it in and become a decorator. Just kidding, I've been in school all day!
     So my fourth week of PGCE brings about my first day of placement in a medium size primary school, where I have joined a year 5 class. And there was no time like the present this morning as I dived straight into Maths, with the kids definitely teaching me as much as me them (except they didn't realise it). Then there was French - same situation. I listened to a group read, helped with Literacy and kept paint pots filled up during Art, hence the coloured hands thing!
     The rest of the day was mostly spent entertaining the children with the possibilities about my first name, after they'd worked out from my badge that it began with a 'J'. I was offered, amongst others Jack, Jaffa Cake and, obscurely, Sean.
     Tomorrow it's Harvest Service time in the local Church, so not much chance of getting into the rhythm of things, but it should be fun. On with the show...

Thursday, 26 September 2013


So after reflecting on my reflections and evaluating my evaluations I move on to creating three 'targets'. Never one of my strong points this is what I came up with (helped by the document they gave us):

1. Be motivated by a range of learning approaches and resources.

2. Aspire to plan stimulating and engaging lessons (as opposed to the opposite).

3. Write better targets.

I'll find out tomorrow what my tutor makes of them.

Friday, 20 September 2013

It's the weekend...

For possibly the first time in over four years I'm really appreciating the fact that it's Friday! This feeling will only increase I'm sure. Of course, I still have plenty to do, but after a solid three days in a row at Uni (yeah, tough, I know) I'm glad I won't be having Maths or English or any other kind of class tomorrow!
     Actually it's been a pretty good week. Things I learnt in Primary school are coming back to me, and the new stuff, like clever whiteboards that have many, many fancy features, are fun!

In other news, have you seen the Astronomy Photographer of Year competition photos? I don't care what you say, Space is cool and beautiful, and these photos are proof.

Check them out here: http://www.rmg.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/astronomy-photographer-of-the-year/2013-winners/earth-and-space/

The winner though, which was taken in New Zealand, is just stunning.

Guiding Light to the Stars by Mark Gee (Australia)

Titled "Guiding light to the stars" it shows the Milky Way seemingly coming from the Lighthouse on the cliff. On the left (middle and top), the two Magellanic Clouds, which are small satellite galaxies, appear as faint smudges in the sky.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Just another manic monday

It's 6pm, I've been working on and off (but mostly on) since 8am, and I think it takes some kind of disaster to end the day with more work to do than I started with. Of course I haven't really, it's just that I've spent the day (in the off periods, along with watching rain clouds and pigeons) discovering all the extra things I have to do that I didn't know about at the start.
     So it's welcome to the pgce course for me. There are two different English classes to prepare for (Pedagogy and Subject knowledge) and the same for Maths, then science and ICT. Plus the more obscure seminars called Teaching in a Diverse Society, Teachers as Researchers and Professional Studies (where we learn how to be professional (rather than amateurs) I guess). For each one there are readings and questions and forms and things to print off, which may or may not come in useful.
     However, I have also learnt/read some things today. Including a fair amount about Phonics ("A method of teaching children to read by teaching them to recognise and use sound-symbol correspondences." - But of course you knew that already). Most surprising was the sentence, "There are 20 or so vowels in English speech...", which made me wonder why only 5 have ever appeared on Countdown.
     Anyway, I should probably get back to writing my perspective on the "current debates surrounding the teaching of early reading". I didn't even know I had a perspective this morning.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The year begins...

So today was the beginning of my PGCE, although it wasn't as dramatic as it sounds. Merely an introduction day in which we were inundated with information, booklets and an excessive number of bags. These latter items came from the three Teacher Unions, who were all insistent we signed up. Of course no student can turn their nose up at the words, "It's free" especially when there are goodies in store. Along with the bags, I received sweets, pens, a year planner and a diary. Not a bad haul.
     We were sent to meet our 'Academic groups' - these are different from our 'Teaching groups', who we meet tomorrow, although I can't see why - and we spent most of the hour playing 'Get to know each other games', which I'm impressed to say almost everyone (in my group) threw themselves into enthusiastically. I guess to anyone else a group of twenty adults playing 'Dip Dop', or whatever it was, is either an odd party or time wasting, but it helped to break the ice I'm sure.
     All in all then it wasn't so bad for my first day of study in about four months (never again will my summers be so long, *sob*) but of course it'll only get tougher from here. Bring it on!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

A new era

'Era' is a very small word for such a big term. It is also an anagram of 'ear', but I cannot think of anything insightful to say about that.
     Anyway, look at this, my blog is all new! Well it isn't, everything that was there before is still there, but it looks new. This is because I have now graduated from my degree in Creative Writing (2:1, thanks very much for asking) and am about to begin my life as a Primary School Teacher, hence the whole 'new era' thing. So I thought I'd give the blog it's first big shake up in nearly two years. Let me know if it looks bad, then I can block you and we'll all carry on. (Jokes). Seriously, if you can't read a word due to the font type, it would be nice to know, cause I'm not just writing this for my own amusement, no. It's for your amusement, when you've really run out of things to do, such as walking the fish or rearranging your DVD shelf into alphabetical order by Director.
     Brilliant, so now we've cleared that up. Welcome, or welcome back. Hopefully as a teacher I will have much to write about, and if not I'll just bash out anything that comes to mind, much as I have been up to this point. Hope that sounds good!
     Thanks amigos!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

A Family Failure - Part 3: My previous funeral experience

I had only ever attended one funeral before my own, and that was of my Great Grandma Gladys.  Less of a funeral it had more similarities to ‘Noises off’. There was large amount of miscommunication, like the hearse being told the wrong church to go to, arriving just before the bride at her wedding. Half of the guests had been told that it would be more of a celebration of Gladys’ life and to wear something colourful, while the other half turned up in the traditional, sombre black. Uncle Joe decided it would be a good idea to down half a bottle of whisky and loudly proclaim that it was all his brother’s wife’s fault, and that he’d never seen such a shambles, which made it a timely moment for three vicars to show up, all planning on the leading the same service.
              However, at least nobody was particularly late, whereas at my funeral it looks as though I will be lucky to have one man and a dog to see me off! But I am still ahead of myself, for I must tell you of how I died.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

A Family Failure - Part 2: On Wills and Jumble Sales

Now no-one expected me to die, it just happened when nobody was looking, which meant there was a bit of a rush to get a funeral sorted and all the other things you have to do when someone dies.
           I died on a Monday; a sad case in itself for Monday is such a dull day already. The weekend snow was turning damp and slushy, everyone was trying to get back into a work routine after the Christmas break, feeling thoroughly miserable, and I went a died.
          My family spent the next day and a half crying a lot before realising I wasn’t going to bury myself and that I was starting to smell. This all led to them rushing to get my funeral prepared. They booked a church for Friday, but found that no-one could come because they all had parties to go to already. So then they moved it to the following Monday. Great, so I not only die on a Monday, but I get buried on one too!
          Just because my family will be late to my funeral doesn’t mean you can get away with it. I expect you to be there on the dot. I will try to give you a little time to get seated before I begin the ceremony by making my grand entrance.
          Actually these days it’s a little more humiliating. There once was a time when six pallbearers would carry you shoulder high down the aisle in a slow, mournful yet dignified fashion, while the organ played and everyone respectfully stood to watch you pass. Now they dump the coffin on a trolley and roll it up to the front to the tune of ‘Always look on the bright side of life’, while everyone sits back and pretends to cry into their tissues (in fact their just hiding their noses from the smell). Most of them are only there to hear if they’ve been left anything in the will. Well I can tell you now that they will all be disappointed at my funeral. I died so quickly and unexpectedly I didn’t have time to write one. (Unless you count the thing I wrote aged 6, leaving my jar of two pence pieces to Dad and my book on Monster Machines to Mum).
           I often wonder why they call it a ‘Will’. Was it because someone called Will wrote the first one? Or is it to say that you are willing to let other people have you stuff? It would be interesting for someone to write a ‘won’t’ of all the things they don’t wish to have handed on to another person, who would probably only sell it at a jumble sale anyway.
          Talking of jumble sales, I went to one once. Just bear with me here. They are crazy places, where you can go and take all the stuff you don’t want or need, and really free up your house (everyone has too much stuff). But then you make the crucial error of wandering around to look at all the other things on sale. Most of it’s chipped or worthless, but your eyes spot the cheap price tag and you start emptying your wallet. Then you get home and you realise, that you spent more money than you made and you have more junk than you left with.
          Anyway, as I was saying, I went to one once, just to have a look around, and I came across this chap selling weird bracelets. They had a selection of pretty stones on them and the man said that I should wear them when I died and they’d help in one way or another when I passed on to the next life. That all sounded ridiculous at the time, but they looked so nice that I bought one and wore it for a long time after. I even started thinking it would help me when I died. Of course what I forgot was that when you die you can’t really decide what goes with you into the coffin. Mum just chose a nice outfit for me and my stone bracelet was left behind in a draw. Although as it happens they wouldn’t have been any use anyway as I am almost stark naked, so it looks like I left everything bar my body, and one useful item of clothing, in the coffin.
            But I am getting ahead of my self, I am neither dead nor buried as far as you are concerned for I am yet to describe the events to you. But please be patient, I will come to them soon. Besides it will be a while yet before my family reach the funeral so let me go on.

Monday, 5 August 2013

A Family Failure - Part 1: The nature of names

They’re going to be late, I just knew it. Well I suppose you can’t blame them. We were all born late, every one of us in my family. In fact I was the least late, only three days, whereas Uncle Andy was more like three weeks, or so I’m told. And now they’re going to be late again, they can’t even manage to get to my own funeral on time.
            Dad has always been one of the worst. He almost missed my birth because he was trying to catch a fish. He did actually succeed, but when he pulled it off the hook, it wriggled out of his hand and back into the water. Then there was my wedding. He actually came in after the service had begun with his tie all loose; Mum had given up waiting for him. But now to be late for my funeral? I suppose I have to take some of the blame, because dying in mid-January, when Britain shuts down after 3 flakes of snow, was a bad idea, but still!
            My name is Rufus, which is utterly ridiculous, because far from having red hair (Rufus means red-haired, in case you hadn't guessed) I have none, I never had much, and even worse what I did have was bright blonde. But my Great-Great Granddad had been called Rufus and so of course we had to keep it in the family. Not that I mind Rufus, I find it quite cool. It certainly helped me out in my youth. It put me head and shoulders above the tallest kid in school whose parents had named him Clancy. I saw him many years later by which time he’d managed to make people call him Lance instead.
            Names really are funny things, you can’t choose your own (well you can go and change it if you’re really that bothered. Generally it’s the sort of thing people say they’ll do, like; “I’m going to change my name when I’m older.”
            “Really, what to?”
            “Oh, I don’t know, I hadn’t thought about that bit.”
            “How about Alexander the Great?”
            “Yeah, that sounds awesome.” But of course they never do it). Then once you’ve got your name you never use it. Instead everyone else uses it for you. In some cases they wear it out completely. Or else they just forget it, and every time you see them you have to remind them, and they say “Oh yeah, I remember, sorry. I will remember it next time.” But they don’t, they just make a wild stab. “Is it Vincent?”
            “No, no it’s not. Good try, better luck next time Katie.”
            “I’m Pamela.”
            So you see really they’re ridiculous. At least with my name there aren’t too many around. My younger brother’s called Jack and there are hundreds of them. You just meet them everywhere you go. I’d try to call my brother in a crowded room and 20 people would turn round.
            But enough of names, I was going to tell you about my funeral.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

A thought provoked by The Grapes of Wrath

Between the narrative of The Grapes of Wrath, wonderful and beautiful as it is, John Steinbeck includes many interesting and insightful comments, many of which still apply today, some seventy-four years after it was first published. Here is one I came across:

"If this tractor were ours it would be good - not mine, but ours. If our tractor turned the long furrows of our land, it would be good. Not my land, but ours. We could love that tractor then as we have loved this land when it was ours. But this tractor does two things - it turns the land and turns us off the land. There is little difference between this tractor and a tank. The people are driven, intimidated, hurt by both. We must think about this."

Now few people today (at least in Britain) could say they are being, or have been driven off their land by tractors, that do the same job at a cheaper cost. That I suppose happened many years ago, as it did in the USA. Now though we complain about the cost of food; food that is largely imported, making it more expensive and less fresh.
     This attitude fits closely with the western way of living, i.e 'someone else can do the planting, growing, harvesting, packing, etc., we'll just do the eating, preferably without having to pay too much. Meanwhile we do small jobs, that don't necessarily improve life, but often help us to do as little as possible.
     There was a time when each family grew their own food, made their own clothes, built their own homes, did things that were actually essential to life. Now we want other people to do this for us, preferably overseas where we don't have to see how hard it is. Oh and if you could make me the latest iPlod macro extra, with all the trimmings, that would be excellent.

Is the world going to change, no, or at least not over night. What I would like to suggest, however, is that we should take back our land from the tractor, which is itself a dying breed in England, where more and more fields are being built upon by our generous government. If farms cannot provide us with food, we should provide it for ourselves, as many already do.
     A small vegetable plot can produce a mass of food, enough to supply more than one family for a year. If every garden in Britain grew just one type of crop, we could stop importing so much food, which in turn would save a lot of money. Yes, we wouldn't have all food at all times of the year, but the food we would have would be fresh and probably much better for us.
     I hope that some day this is how we will live, because if we can improve our way of life in this way, perhaps we can improve it in other ways.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

People don't change

The Grapes of Wrath is an American classic and was first published in 1939. Here is a paragraph though, that I did not expect to read:

"The doors of the empty house swung open, and drifted back and forth in the wind. Bands of little boys came out from the towns to break the windows and pick over the debris, looking for treasures. And here's a knife with the blade half gone. That's a good thing. And - smells like a rat died here. And look what Whitey wrote on the wall. He wrote that in the toilet at school, too, an' teacher made 'im wash it off."

Such a paragraph would not be out of place in a novel set in the twenty-first century, because people don't change. Houses are still left empty and boys will always be boys.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Down by the Weir

Outside of the town and on the far side of the hill the river ran in twists and curls. Trees shaded each bank and in places large rocks protruded from the water. In the summer we would go down to the river and lie in the sun or bathe in the cool water. It wasn't deep and the current wasn't strong and it would have been perfect except for the noise of traffic on the nearby road.
     One day while exploring further down stream, away from the town and the cars we discovered an old weir, still in perfect condition. The water flowed over the smooth rocks and tumbled noisily down the far side. Below the weir the river became very shallow for a while and we paddled about and watched for fish. Then someone had the idea of sitting in the cascade of white water, which we did, letting the flow cool our backs, hot from the sun.
     We stayed all day swimming and wading, enjoying the peace. The next day we came back, and almost every day that summer when the sun shone. It was our secret place. Our garden, our play park and we shared it only with the birds.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Ashes - Day 1 from Trent Bridge

An interesting day of test match cricket. It was always going to be nervy and exciting but I didn’t really expect 14 wickets, or even half that number.

Anyway, got the ground well in time for the toss, England won, although it might have been better to lose. Cloudy conditions made it a good time to bowl.

Then there were the national anthems, the Coldstream Guard, fireworks and perfectly timed, the Red Arrows.

Finally got the first ball, a wide, good start and after that everything settled down for a while.

Plenty of Aussies in the crowd kept the noise and the tension up but with England 98-2 at lunch everything seemed as per normal.

After lunch though it got a bit mad. England played some bad shots and seemed to get intimidated by Siddle. So they threw away their decent start and early in the evening session collapsed completely. 215 all out was bad, very bad, and the England fans were very quiet. Sadly this made the Aussie fans sing even louder.

However half an hour later, however, everything changed. Finn took two in two and Anderson bowled Clarke and there was a rousing rendition of ‘You’re not singing anymore’ to the much subdued bunch from Down Under. It was still cloudy and chilly but then a cameraman turned up next to me and the guys I was with. We tried to act normal… but failed...

Anderson got another wicket, possibly a bit luckily and that was about the end of it. Hoping for something a bit more steady tomorrow, not sure I can take another day like that! Still, COME ON ENGLAND!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Travelling British Columbia

Outside the teepee our fire is crackling. The mountainside campsite grants us a spectacular view of a snowcapped range with the sun setting in the distance. From the border with Alberta I can reflect on four days in eastern Canada.
     Vancouver is a city. Like most cities it has skyscrapers, restaraunts and buses that don't run to time (although they were better than many English services). We also visited the pleasant area of Gastown and had dinner there.
    In north Vancouver is a hidden valley and across it the Capilano suspension bridge. Above the river and between the trees we swayed and I began to feel like I'd found some of what I came to British Columbia to see.
    Monday morning we collected our hire car and departed Vancouver on the Sea-to-sky highway. It was precipitating rather badly but we ignored that and set off in search of mountains. It wasn't long until we found some and lost ourselves amongst their soaring peaks.
     In Whistler we stopped in the Olympic village before heading on around hairpin bends, deeper into the Canadian wilderness. We drove over 500 km and finished at a small youth hostel with old railway carriages for dorm rooms.
     Today we continued further into the Rockies, in dryer weather thankfully, until we arrived at Goldenwood Lodge and our teepee.

Our aim to reach Calgary by Thursday night should still be possible, despite the floods. For the meantime though it is farewell BC, hello Alberta.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The foolishness of exams

In a week in which Mr Gove has announced there will now be even more emphasis on exams and less coursework, I thought I would congratulate those who have made it through exam season with a reminder of the foolishness of exam papers.

Remember, exams don't actually prove how smart you are, only what you can regurgitate under timed conditions, and from 2017 sixteen year-olds will be required to produce two years worth of studies in two months of intense pressure. Good luck everyone!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Britain's Got (no) Talent ... apparently

So this year, possibly for the first time ever, I actually loosely followed what was happening on Britain's got talent, i.e. I watched the most popular youtube clips and then spending a spare evening watching the final on catch-up.
     I had been quite impressed with what I'd seen and the line up for the final looked interesting, entertaining and occasionally impressive. I couldn't call who was going to win, although from the running order it was clear who the producers (and mainly Simon Cowell) wanted to win.
     After last year, when a dog won, I thought that this year Britain might actually have an act to be proud of and that the Royal family might appreciate at the Royal Variety Show.
     In the end it went to Shadow Dance group Attraction, who, don't get me wrong, are very impressive, original and moving in what they do. They looked good from their audition right through, and, as far as the competition went, were worthy winners. However, they are from Hungary. Yes the winners of BRITAIN'S got talent, aren't even from this island! At least the dog could claim that!

In the light of this I think it's time for a name change.
     How about: Where is Britain's talent?
                         Britain doesn't care about British talent, so here are some other options!

Please add your suggestions below!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Great Gatsby

2013; five years after Australia, twelve since Moulin Rouge and seventeen since Romeo and Juliet, Baz Luhrmann returns with another dazzling creation. This time he takes on the brilliant, classic novel, The Great Gatsby.
     Now we all know that critics don't generally like Baz or his style and there have been the usual comments on his lack of subtlety, but I think this is an old story that can take a modern makeover. The song choices were superb and matched the feel of the Twenties, showing that as humans we really don't change that much. Indeed I think the story of J. Gatsby could easily be set now. A world of consumer culture, unchecked wealth and greed building up to a recession, with politicians, bankers, celebrities and rich landowners mixing together at massive parties, making us all wonder who is actually in charge.
     The movie is beautifully shot, making excellent use of the two mansion houses around which most of the story is set, while also capturing the sounds of New York and the parties exquisitely, building right up to the gun shot, which is guaranteed to make you jump. The cast in turn enhances the film with DiCaprio delivering a quick thinking and yet nervous Gatsby, while Carey Mulligan is both delicate and powerful in her portrayal of Daisy. Maguire, Debicki and Edgerton were less memorable, although still good, but in the minor roles it was nice to see Isla Fisher playing a more serious part.
     All in all The Great Gatsby is a stunning movie and makes an interesting connection between the past and present. As Gatsby speculates, the past can be repeated (although sadly not begun over).

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

An Unexpected Journey

It had been planned that all those who wanted to would meet at 2pm on Saturday, 11th May, not far from the centre of Bath. Together we would set out on an adventure that would take us under mountains (hills) and along the shores of rivers (canals) to the ancient city (town) of Bradford-upon-Avon, where there had been reports of a dragon. (Okay, I made the last bit up).
   Anyway, what I'm getting at is that a group of students decided to go for a cycle ride and on returning (Bilbo's story was of course alternatively known as 'There and Back Again') would watch the first instalment of The Hobbit on DVD. It was supposed to be a light-hearted and relaxing afternoon, but of course adventures are never so easy.

As it turned out thirteen of us showed up. Gandalf was missing, which turned out to be critical, but we set out regardless.
   The first leg of the journey was a pleasant ride up a wide path past trees and houses. It was an old railway line, long disused, which maintained a gentle ascent. Barely half a mile in, however, we lost our first rider. I hung back to try and help her catch the peloton (not that we were doing Tour de France pace or anything), but it was to no avail and she turned for home.
   The early set back didn't halt us though and we pressed on to the first tunnel. The path continued to rise as we sped through and out the other side. Quickly we approached the second and much longer tunnel, dimly lit and occasionally issuing gentle muisc from the walls (no joke). Finally we again emerged into the light, now near the top of the hill. Here sadly our second member left us, finding a quick way home. Perhaps this should have worried us, but we didn't think anything of it.
   Now we left the path and took to back roads and country lanes as we wound our way (mostly) downhill towards the canal and the next stage of our journey. Cutting past a school we came out by a glorious cricket field on the outskirts of a village named Monkton Combe. I could not let such a scene pass without taking a picture (albeit a poor one) which you can see here.

Having taken the picture I found myself alone, the others having gone on ahead and so I decided to really stretch my legs and race to catch them up. The track was flat but turned very rough. I consider myself to be a good cyclist, and, with my heavy duty mountain bike, pressed on.

Meanwhile the other ten members of our party had reached the canal, coming out by the Dundas Aqueduct, and, not realising I wasn't there stopped to take a few photos before going on. I must have been more delayed than I thought because by the time I reached the same spot they had disappeared.
   The ten remaining riders soon became nine when disaster struck in the form of a puncture. Those with road bikes, so good in the early part of the journey, were now suffering on the rougher canal path. Further on, as the group approached Bradford another tyre was struck and the cyclist forced to run the last part of the way into the town.
   The nine slightly weary cyclists then stopped in Bradford for refreshment and a chance to reflect on the jouney so far. With time moving on, however, they'd couldn't stay long. The punctured bike and cyclist departed for the railway station and with him went another member, who was too tired for the return trip. The team, now reduced to seven, set out once more, this time for home.

What of me though?
   Ignoring the ruts and bumbs of the track beside the cricket field I raced on but then came something I could not avoid. A narrow speed bumb, steep and vicious, lay across the road. I saw it too late and hit it at full tilt. I tried to keep the bike under control but knew it was useless. As I catapulted over the handlebars I tried to tuck myself in but of course instinct takes over and as I hit the ground my left arm shot out to break my fall. As it turned out the fall broke my left arm. My head also hit the earth but fortunately my helmet saved me there. I rolled and finally came to a stop and lay still for a minute thinking, Why does no one ever see the dramatic moments of my life? (I was alone when I broke my right arm at the age of four, too, but that's another story).
   Naturally I was dazed and bleeding in a few places but nothing I was overly worried about. My neck was sore but soon felt better and after getting my breath back I felt pretty good. I got up, checked my bike, which was of course absolutely fine (what a beast), and got back onto the saddle. Only then did I realise I couldn't put any pressure on my left arm. I felt it and rubbed it and bent it but realised I couldn't use it. I must clarify that I did not think it was broken, but I opted to head for home anyway.
   As I mentioned, in this time the others had reached the canal and moved on and when I arrived they were nowhere to be seen. So I sent a quick text saying I'd fallen off I was going home, but that I would see them later, (by which time my arm would, obviously, by pain free and in full working order).
   So I headed for Bath, legs pumping, right hand steering and, at first left arm by my side. Then common sense kicked in and I remembered that you should hold an injured arm across your chest. That return journey was tough. Cycling with one hand is fine for a little while but eight and a half miles is too much, especially into the wind. Your legs are forced to work much harder and on reaching the centre of Bath my muscles gave out, they would not move any further. So I lay down beside the road for a few minutes slowly stretching, all the while keeping my arm bent, although still convinced it could not be broken.
   Eventually I was able to continue and sometime later reached my house. Somehow, from falling off to arriving back only took me an hour and twenty minutes, although I wasn't thinking about that. The next three hours were spent trying to loosen my arm, which had now seized in the position I had been holding it. Having a bath did have the desired effect, partially, but only for an hour or so. Eventually it became clear that a trip to the hospital was necessary and so I went. Mercifully it was almost empty and it took just two hours to go in, get checked and x-rayed and informed that I had indeed fractured my radius just below my elbow. A cup of tea was issued followed by a sling and then I was dispatched for home.
   Sadly it was by now too late to join the DVD watching party and instead I returned to my house to take painkillers and sit in bed not falling asleep. I did eventually, although only for two hours at most, but when I woke the pain had gone.
   That then was the story of our very Unexpected Journey and it only remains for me to congratulate the hardy seven riders who successfully made it back in one piece. Well done everyone!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Still Our Problem

As the death toll for the building collapse in Bangladesh passes 700 I think it's important to remember that this is our problem. Our demand for cheap clothing has put the workers in this terrible situation. Just because the clothes are not made here, does not mean that we should get away with it. We got rid of awful working conditions like these in the UK decades, even centuries, ago, but sadly have then recreated them overseas.
     'Made in China' has become something of a joke to us, but it's true that a vast amount of the things we buy are produced there, and mostly by young people. We have been aware of and buying fairly traded food for years now, but I think it's time this extended to other things, such as gadgets and clothes. We should question Who made this? How long did they work for? How much did they get paid? The western world works on Supply and Demand, but we should not demand cheap things but fairly paid things.
     We can try to hide what we don't want to see, but it will continue to show itself and remind us that this is still our problem!

Monday, 22 April 2013

Bane's World of Adventure

So a week's gone by now, I mean since I was, like, kicked out of home. Well, not kicked out exactly, but I left, anyway, it's complicated. And I was just chilling out in the woods, sneaked through a couple of back gardens, had some fun, but it was getting on and I hadn't figured out anywhere to stay the night yet.
   I was just crossing this road, however, when I saw this dude with dreads, strolling along and I thought, he's my kind of guy. Him and me, we can be good mates. So I ran over and he stopped to greet me and sure enough, before I could say, 'can I stay at your place?' he'd taken me back to his place, well sort of.
   Anyway, he and his mates gave me some nuts and a bit of fruit, but then things started to go wrong. Someone suggested the surgery and one thing led to another and suddenly I found myself outside this big building. Fortunately it was shut for the evening but the dude rang this number on the door and the person on the other end said something about putting me down. I thought that didn't sound so good, and I couldn't believe after the start we'd made, that the dude wanted to get rid of me so quickly. Except I'd got it wrong and the dude was like "No he can stay with me," and hung up. After that me and the dude went to his van and he made me a bed and I was so tired I just curled up and went to sleep.

The next few days I just crashed in the van. It was pretty good fun, and certainly warm enough, but by Friday it was starting to get a bit boring, so I gave the dude a look and he took me back to his mates' house. Then he built this rough shelter in the back garden, which was cool, and left me to it.
   Well I hung around for a bit but then I heard someone next door so I slipped over the fence to meet them. It was this woman, and she was a bit scary or scared, I couldn't quite work out which. Anyway, once she'd calmed down we had a good laugh, and she found her family and we all shook hands, and that's how easy it is to make friends with your neighbours.

Next day I did a bit of exploring, checked out the area again, found a bit to eat and generally established myself. On sunday though I thought I'd better find out what was going on inside the house, so I let myself in and found the dude and he was pretty pleased to see me and since he had a bit of time he upgraded the home he'd built me and then we just hung out till bed.

So all in all, it's been a pretty sweet first week.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Annapolis is the capital of Maryland

Does anyone else, when they hear about the state known as Maryland, think of a land filled with people called Mary? And yet their capital is Annapolis! Who came up with that? Surely Marypolis would have been more suitable. I reckon whoever it was probably got banished from the Land of Marys. She/he (let's not be sexist here) really should have taken advice from the namer of Indianapolis, which, funnily enough, is the capital of Indiana. See, makes much more sense.

Maryland is roughly the same size a Belgium, making it one of the smallest states, which I think says more about Belgium. However it also one of the most populous states and technically the wealthiest, but I think that's enough useless information for one day.

Who are these people that live in Maryland? What do they do? How weird that there's nearly 6 million people over there, (unless you're one of them), living their own lives, totally separate to mine, not knowing that I'm writing about them, happy in their Maryish ignorance. Have nice lives Marylanders!

Friday, 29 March 2013

Barabbas' Story

It was still early morning when I heard a noise outside of the prison. A crowd had gathered and were shouting, bellowing even. I looked at the others in the cell but no one could understand what it was about. What could the Jews want with Pilate this close to Passover?
     That's when I heard my name. The crowd in unison called, "Barabbas!" over and over. Everyone looked at me and I wondered even more what it meant.
     One man said, "Pilate releases a prisoner each year during Passover. It sounds like the crowd wants you."
     Me! Why would they want me? If the Priests ever asked it would only be for a good man, wrongfully imprisoned by the Romans. I, on the other hand, am definitely not a good man. I was in prison because I murdered many people in a riot. Everyone hated me.
     It was then that a guard appeared. He unlocked the door and released my shackles. I looked at him and he silently pointed to the door.
     "I can go?"
     He nodded. So I got stiffly to my feet and hobbled out of the cell. With the guard I passed along corridors I never thought I would see again and eventually came to the door. The sun was bright and I blinked until my eyes adjusted.
     I followed the sound of the crowd, who were quieter now. Many priests were gathered, along with other Jews. I joined them and tried to say thank you for having me released but they ignored me. These men, who had been shouting my name just minutes before showed me their backs. I was still a hated man. What was going on here?
     At the front I saw Pilate in his magnificent robes and next to him another man, his shoulders slumped.
     "Who is that?" I asked someone.
     "Jesus," they replied.
     Even in the prison we had heard of this man. Story teller, preacher, even miracle worker sometimes, although people doubted. I was interested to hear what was going on so I got closer and it was then that I realised that Jesus was on trial.
     Suddenly those at the front, with whom Pilate was conversing, starting shouting again, except this time they said, "Crucify him."

Later that day I watched as this man, who seemed to have done nothing wrong dragged his cross out of the city. His back was torn from whips and his head was pierced with thorns.
     The charge for his execution was: This man is the King of the Jews.
     Had he stolen? No. Had he caused trouble? No. Had he murdered? No. But I had. And I was free. Something was surely amiss here. I was the one in the wrong. Why wasn't I carrying that cross and being whipped. It seemed like it was my fault and I felt so guilty.
     I pushed through the crowd as we climbed a hill outside of Jerusalem. I came along side Jesus.
     "Jesus," I called out over the noise of the crowd, "forgive me. You have taken my place. Why did you not argue?"
     He turned and looked at me. I know he looked at me, but he did not say anything. The look he gave though was enough. In that look there was forgiveness. In that look there was love.
     Jesus went to the cross for me and changed my life forever.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Padlocked Chest - Part 5

Over the next days we kept ourselves busy and the time went quickly. We built up our wood pile on top of the hill, but most of the branches we cut went to building shelters or rafts.
     It was just as the routine was becoming monotonous that the thing we'd been waiting for arrived. A ship appeared on the horrizon. Gemma spotted it and yelled. Jack took off up the hill to start the fire, which is what we'd planned. The wood had been kept dry and it caught quickly. Smoke drifted lazily up into the still air. Meanwhile, down on the shore we were yelling as loud as we could.
     Five minutes passed and the ship seemed not to have noticed but then sails began to be taken in and the bow turned towards us. We cheered and whooped.
     'Quick,' I shouted, 'get the rafts into the water.'
     Together we lifted our bulky structures into sea where they floated beautifully. The ship was nearer now and there could be no doubt they were heading for us.
     'Wait, what about the men in the cave?' said Philippa.
     'They left us, I reckon we leave them,' Peter responded.
     'They must have heard us shouting,' said Jack, 'if they haven't bothered to come out by now to see what's going on then I don't think they will. I'm with Peter.'
     'Still,' I said, 'we ought to let them know.'
     Two older guys offered to go and we said we'd wait. They returned within half an hour.
     'They think we're trying to trick them into coming out of the cave,' said Adam, as they came up, 'so they're not coming out.'
     I nodded. 'Well, that's that then.'
     There was a terrific splash and we saw the ship had lowered an anchor.
     'On to the rafts everyone, let's go.'
     We boarded our log vessels and slowly pushed off from the shore. We'd gone less than ten metres however, when there was a shout and a man came splashing towards us.
     'Wait, for me,' he called.
     'He's from the cave,' said Adam.
     'I'm coming with you,' he said, as he reached the first raft.
     'What about the others?' I asked.
     'No, they're staying.'
     We pulled him onto the raft and then continued paddling out towards the ship, thankful for the calm waters. Gradually we drifted closer until we came alongside. From above us a rope ladder was dropped. I grabbed it and started to climb.
     I looked back towards the island, but it had gone.
     'Guys,' I called down, 'where's the island?'
     They looked back too.
     'Wait,' said Philippa, 'what's that?' She pointed.
     'It's a door,' I said, squinting, 'it must be the one we came through from the chest.'
     'This just gets weirder and weirder,' said Adam, 'well, there's no going back. On to the ship everyone.'

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Death to bullets

Each year there are enough bullets produced to shoot every person on the planet twice. Seeing as it only has to take one bullet to kill someone, it seems we are making a determined effort to wipe humanity off the Earth. Plus of course killing is illegal in most countries, but then, as Voltaire said, "It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets."
     The Arms Trade is worth somewhere between $45-60 billion, and most of that is from the world's richest nations, to the world's poorest. Seeing as the rich countries are probably lending the money to the poor ones in the first place it hardly seems worth it. There is also a huge lack of accountability. Once the weapons are handed over the new owners are welcome to do what they like with them, and that includes using them against the rich nations.
     The problem is, of course, that all these supposedly 'rich' countries are in debt, which means they will make money in any way they can even if it means rolling out enough bullets to wipe out humanity. It has been said that it takes courage to kill someone, now it seems it takes courage not to.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The Padlocked Chest - Part 4 - The Island

By the end of the day tensions were running high. A few people were still determindly, or desperately ,searching for food, but most had given up. It was when the first fight broke out, over nothing, that I decided we had to do something, fast.
     'We should try and build a raft,' I said, 'and we should also make a fire in case we see a ship.'
     'And how do you suggest we do either of those things, Genius?' said Robert, scornfully.
     I dragged him by the sleve away from the rest of the group. 'I am trying to take people's mind off food and despair, and onto something practical,' I whispered, fervently, 'now will you please co-operate.'
     'Who made you boss?' he replied, as I stepped away, loud enough for the others to hear.
     I turned back. 'Look, I get it. You have been stuck for the longest, but you know what that means? You've spent the longest doing nothing. Well move over pal, there's someone here who actually wants to do something.'
     'Fine,' he called, 'I'll do something. I'll take the cave. It'll be my home. Anyone who wants to come and live with me can come now, everyone else can stay out.'
     'Hey, that's not fair,' I began, but he cut me off.
     'You try making your raft, but I'm going to the place that's most like the chest. We survived in the chest, we were coping fine until you came.'
     'Fine, go then,' I retorted, 'hide, pretend it doesn't exist. Meanwhile everyone who's interested in getting off this island, let's get busy.'
     I set off in one direction and Robert in another. 'Is anyone joining me in the cave?' he called, 'last chance.'
     Everyone else had sat or stood unmoved to this point watching the arguement unfold, but then two men turned and went after Robert, followed by a couple more. We watched them go. Philippa, though, looked at me and said, 'how can we help?'

Two hours later I was in a tree hacking and breaking off small branches, while others used stones to try and cut into thicker logs. It was going to be a dry night, but it was also getting colder, so we took it in turn trying to make a fire. Eventually Jack, a guy a few years older than me, managed to get a spark and not long later we had a small blaze going. Seeing as the cave was now out of bounds we slept around the fire, which slowly shrank and in the morning was just a smoldering pile of ashes.
     We'd used almost all the wood we had cut, so we began again, collecting piles of twigs and sticks. Jack took a party of people off to the top of the hill to build a fire in case we saw a ship, while the rest of us began cutting into the base of a tree, hoping to fell it.
     It was well into the afternoon when we finally managed, but there were smiles all round and for the first time in 24 hours things were looking up. Just then, however, Jack returned with some of his group (they'd left a couple of people on the hill to be watchers). They were looking grim and told us how they'd gone to see the cave.
     'They've blocked the entrace up with stones,' Jack reported, 'there's just a small hole at the top for them to see out of, and to defend themselves apparently. One of them threw a stone at us and hit Gemma.'
     Gemma showed us the cut on her forehead. It wasn't deep, but blood was still dripping from it. Someone grabbed a large leaf from a nearby bush, folded it and gave it to Gemma who held it against the cut.
     'Well we can't do anything about them,' I said, 'we'll just have to stay away from the cave for the time being.' I tried to be positive, but the smiles had gone again.

Monday, 25 February 2013

The Padlocked Chest - Part 3

Evening came and so did a storm. We were lucky that while Alice, who's only thirteen, was trying to find some shelter on the north side of the hill she came across a small cave. Quickly we crammed ourselves in and then slowly fell asleep. At least everyone apart from Robert and I did. We sat up and discussed what on earth had happened to our lives.
     Robert had clearly had this conversation before and was happy to add his limited wisdom as to how thirty people end up in a chest, then go through a door and find themselves on a desert island. I was still enjoying this adventure but I guess after eighteen years things are pretty dull, and Robert was still grumpy.
     We stopped talking for a while and sat in silence listening to the wind and pouring rain and the waves smashing about on the beach. Then another thought occured to me. 'Robert,' I said, 'how did you actually survive in the chest? I mean, what did you eat?'
     Robert looked at me blankly for a few seconds and then said, 'We didn't eat anything. I never thought about it, but now you mention it I feel really hungry. Wow, I haven't eaten in eighteen years.'
     'But that doesn't make sense, how can you have lived without eating?'
     'Edward, not much is making sense right now, so I guess it's alright for us to have survived without food. Now though, I'm not sure I can. Maybe that's how it works. If you don't think about something, you don't need it, but if you started to think about it then you want it more and more. I am starving.'
     'I don't think we should mention it to the others,' I said, but Robert wasn't listening.
     'What do you think we could find on this island?'
     'I don't know. I haven't seen any animals, there might be some fruit though. We'll look in the morning, if the rain has stopped.'

The rain had stopped and we crawled out of the cave into the sunshine. Robert wasted no time in telling everyone he was hungry and sure enough they all said the same. So we began hunting around for anything to eat.
     An hour later, however, we still hadn't found anything. There was no fruit, the vegetation was awful and, as I thought, there were no other animals either.
     The girl, who was about my age and had been the first to come forward when I suggested going through the door in the chest, and whose name, I had learned, was Philippa, asked me, 'Are we going to die?'
     'I reckon if you can survive in a chest for eighteen years then we can manage on this island,' I said, but really I had no idea at all.

Friday, 22 February 2013

The Padlocked Chest - Part 2

I held my breath, but nothing happened. No noise, no tipping forward and falling and no shrinking feeling. Instead bright light flooded the chest, sunlight, dazzlingly clear.
     'What can you see?' called someone.
     I gazed through the doorway. 'I can see,' I said slowly, 'the sea.'
     'What? said Robert, incredulously.
     'Yes,' I said, 'I promise you. Are you coming?' I turned to look at them. I could see them more clearly now, there must have been nearly thirty of them huddled together, most with worried faces.
     'You're not going through there?' said a man.
     'Well I'm not going to stay in a chest I can't get out of,' I replied, 'now is anyone coming with me, or am I going by myself?'
     'I'll come,' said a girl, stepping out of the crowd. She was about my age and height, although, since we'd shrunk, I wasn't sure if that meant anything.
     'So will I,' said someone else, and then suddenly they all decided they'd quite like a change of scenery and eventually even Robert gave in.
     'Good,' I said, 'let's go then.' Slowly I stepped through the door and onto soft sand. The sun was hot and bright and we all blinked as our eyes adjusted to it. We spread out onto the beach and some people went cautiously down to the water's edge. Others turned and looked around. When the last person stepped through the door it swung firmly shut, and no amount of banging or wiggling the handle could open it.
     'It's like the lid of the chest,' I said, 'it can only be opened from one side.' It looked very odd stood there on the beach by itslef but now we began to wonder what new world we had found.
     'Where do you suppose we are?' said someone.
     'It's the Caribbean,' said Robert.
     'Or the Pacific,' I offered, either way, it's an island.
     There was a small hill rising away from the beach and after a short climb we were able to see all around and this confirmed my statement.
     'Well it's bigger than the chest,' said the girl.
     'Can't be more than half a mile long, though,' said Robert, 'and less than that wide. I don't see any more doors either.'
     'Will you stop being so gloomy,' said a woman, this is much better than the chest, and of course there aren't any doors, everyone knows the only way off an island is by boat.'
     She's right, I thought, I just hope it doesn't take eighteen years for one to turn up.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Padlocked Chest

Yesterday in my Writing for Young People class at Uni we were given a task, just to get us writing. We were given a short beginning to a story and had to continue it. This is what I was given:

I sneaked into the old, abandoned house at the end of the street. I was surprised to find a small, padlocked treasure chest on a dresser in an upstairs bedroom. There was a note that said, "Do not open. EVER!" I also noticed a small key hanging on the wall. I tried the key in the padlock. It was a perfect fit.

Maybe you have some idea about how you would continue this story, but here is what I wrote:

I paused. My heart began to beat quicker and my hand, which was still holding the key, began to shake. Was I really going to do this? I couldn't very well not now. I glanced about, breathed in slowly and then, as quickly as I could, turned the key and flipped the lid open.
     An intense amount of noise hit my ears and at the same moment I felt myself get tipped forward, going head first into the chest. That was ridiculous though, I was was much to big to fit into such a small chest. As I fell, however, I realised that I was shrinking rapidly, until I landed with a thud on on the bottom. The lid slammed shut above me and plunged the inside into darkness.
     I lay still for a moment, dazed from the fall and then I heard a click and a chink of light appeared above me. The key had been removed from the hole.
     'Hello,' said a voice.
     I jumped and turned around on the spot. In the small amount of light I made out a whole crowd of people. Slowly they gathered around me.
     'Hello,' the man said again, 'what's your name?'
     I was still very surprised and confused, but I managed to say, 'Edward.'
     'Welcome Edward,' said the man, 'my name is Robert.'
     'Do you live here?' I asked.
     Robert looked at the others. 'You could say that, yes, but we haven't always. We came here the same way you did. I have been here for eighteen years. I was about your age when I unlocked the chest.'
     'Can't you get out?' I said.
     'To get out through the lid is impossible unless it is unlocked, but it is only unlocked when someone like yourself comes along. We tried to warn you by shouting but it never works.'
     That explained the noise, I thought. 'So there's no other way out?' I questioned.
     'Well,' said Robert, 'there is a small door, over in that corner, but it has another sign with it.'
     I peered through the gloom and made out the door and the sign above it that said, "Do not open. EVER!" 'That's the same sign which is on this chest,' I commented.
     'Yes,' said the man sadly.
     'So, why has no-one opened the door?'
     'We made the mistake once, why would we make it again?' said a woman.
     'Correct,' said Robert, 'we have learnt our lesson.'
     'No!' I said, 'we should open it.'
     'Shhh, now,' said Robert, 'you've had a big fall, don't get upset.'
     'This is ridiculous,' I said, standing up. Then I raced to the door and grabbed the key.
     'No! Don't!' screamed the people, but too late, I turned the key and swung the door wide open.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

A deep and amusing conversation

Part of a conversation in my 6th form common room many years ago. (I've changed the names of those involved to Harry, Barry and Larry.)

H: What I wanted to tell you was that I’ve figured out the expansion of the universe. Outside the universe there is nothing, apparently, and it keeps on expanding into nothing. We were thinking about why, and Mr Smith says that that’s impossible because nothing makes nothing. So, if nothing makes nothing then nothing must constantly be multiplying, cause nothing makes nothing. There’s growing more and more nothing.
B: That’s just play of words.
H: It’s not.
B: Yes it is. (laughs)
H: Nothing makes nothing. Means nothing makes nothing.
L: A equals B. B equals C. Therefore C equals A. But Jane loves Pete. Pete loves Mary. Therefore Mary loves Jane, doesn't work.
B: That’s the same as, you have a table and a saw. Cut the table in half, two halves make a whole and you jump through it.
H: The only reason nothing makes nothing works, in a general sense, is because we don’t have nothing. As soon as you start saying there’s nothing outside the universe, nothing makes nothing doesn’t work anymore.
B: The universe is mainly made up of nothing.
H: Is a vacuum something?
B: No, a vacuum is absence of something.
H: But it is still something.
L: Not tangible.
H: What happens when you take away the vacuum?
B: Well you can’t take away the vacuum; the only way you can remove the vacuum is by adding.
H: Just because there’s a blank piece of paper there, with nothing on it, it’s still a piece of paper. There’s nothing in a vacuum but it’s still a vacuum.
B: A vacuum is just a description.
H: Of something.
B: No a vacuum is a description of the absence of something.
H: But anyway my theory was really good, and it was that if nothing makes nothing then nothing must be multiplying.
B: That is good.
H: Which means the something inside the universe must be spreading out into the nothing by diffusion.
L: Why is the universe spreading?
H: Because it’s being drawn into the multiplying nothingness down a concentration gradient.
B: You can’t be drawn into nothing.
L: If there’s nothing there, how can that draw you?
H: Because it’s diffusion (laughs) by concentration of stuff, or no concentration of stuff.
B: (laughs) Oh dear.
H: And my other thought was, if the universe is expanding and time and space are linked and we’re getting more space, what’s happening to time? Maybe we just don’t know, maybe time is constantly warping.
L: Time is only in the universe, though, time is not in nothing.
H: That’s why it’s growing.
L: Why are time and space linked?
H: Because Einstein said so.
L: What's the theory behind that?
B: Yes time and space aren’t supposed to be linked.
H: The space-time continuum.
L: I thought that was something out of/
H:                                                          Star trek/
L:                                                                        Back to the Future or Star Trek, or one of them.
H: But it is real, he did write a lot about it.
B: You’ve got it in the wrong context-
H: - I don’t have it in any wrong context!
(General laughter)
H: The reason the universe is expanding is because time is happening and it’s affecting things. If you stop time you can stop the universe, or if we stop the universe we will stop time.
L: At the end of the universe time will end and there will be no time.
H: Why wouldn’t there be any time. Just cause there’s no clocks?
L: There’ll be no night or day.
H: Well that’s just a measurement, there’s nothing to compare it against.
B: Therefore you can only really gauge time by your aging.
H: Does the justification of time warrant that time exists?
B: I’m sure you can’t deny that time exists.
H: Can’t you?!
B: Try.
H: I can deny the future exists, I can deny the past exists.
B: The future hasn’t happened yet. The past is just a record of events.
H: The future doesn’t exist-
B: -No it doesn’t exist yet.
H: If the future doesn’t exist that means we’re creating something somehow. Something’s being created all the time.
B: No, something’s progressing.
H: That means it’s already there to progress to. If it’s not there and then it happens, then it’s created somehow.
B: It’s not there to progress to.
H: Well you’re saying the future doesn’t exist but somehow we’re gonna get there.
B: Because everything around is changing. It’s not being destroyed and then created, it’s just altering.
H: You know when we say, ‘Now’.
B: Yes.
H: The present, how long is the present?
B: Now that just comes from your own opinion, it could be present day, a year, a month.
H: Yeah but when we say, ‘Now’. Me saying, ‘now’.
L: Is then past.
H: The ‘N’ and the ‘W’ are in different times.
B: That’s just your opinion.
H: But when does it happen? Like now, when I’m experiencing now? I’m not experiencing one time at all. It’s just going past like a motorbike.
B: Maybe you’re thinking too much
H: The present is just not; it’s just a happy interruption of the past.
B: What before we get onto the future?
H: Yeah. All there is, is a past and a future, and our interpretation of what we call the present.
L: But then if you say, “in a minute I’m going to say, ‘now’, then you know the future.
H: Yeah, you know the future.
B: Look. It depends. I will do something, I am in the process of doing something, I have done something. It all depends how it fits the situation.
H: Maybe none of it exists
B: (to someone else who’s just arrived) You don’t want to come here.
H: None of it exists.
L: Deep conversation.
B: And my head hurts.
H: You’re holding up quite well.