Archive for July, 2010

VSO Rwanda: Provisional flights & the Presidential Election!
July 28, 2010

I have received an email with provisional flight details for my VSO stint in Rwanda.

All things being well, I will be flying out of Heathrow at 06.50 on Thursday 2nd September and arriving at Kigali Airport (right) following a transfer in Brussels, at 18.50 the same day.

My return flight out of Kigali is scheduled for 20.45 on Saturday 4th December, touching down 10.00 on Sunday 5th.

So I should be back home in plenty of time for the build up to Christmas!

I had my first rabies shot yesterday, following on from yellow fever on Monday and swine flu last Friday. The nurse said my immune system won’t know what’s hit it! There are still two more rabies and a Hep B to go before I leave a months from now.

The international spotlight is turning towards Rwanda once again with elections due on 9th August.

Last weekend the Telegraph Magazine (24th July) carried an in-depth interview article with President Paul Kagame which concluded with the unanswered question is he, “a benevolent dictator, the strong hand needed to pull Rwanda forward into a better future, or is he an incurable despot?”  

In the autumn of 1994 Rwanda experienced the fastest genocide in history. Over a 100 day period Hutu fanatics slaughtered more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

At that time the international community stood by staring in disbelief but failing to react until it was too late. In the 16 years since, western aid has enabled the country to make an equally staggering recovery and Rwanda is now considered to be a model for all developing African nations.

Rwanda is now considered to be the safest and cleanest country in Africa. It has experienced one of the highest rates of economic growth. Corruption levels are said to be low and it is the only country in the world with a majority of women in parliament.

The death penalty has been abolished, there is a national health system and 95% of children are in school. There is an aim for every pupil to have their own laptop by 2012!

The infrastructure is developing at an amazing pace with skyscraper buildings rising in the capital city, a good network of major roads, widespread internet availability and a national law banning plastic bags, on environmental grounds.

Amazingly this has been achieved in a nation where communities of survivors from the genocide live side by side with the killers.

Kagame is a Tutsi from the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) whilst 85% of the population are Hutu. He has simply addressed the problem of ethnic hatred and ethnic politics by making them illegal.

The Hutu – Tutsi divide and indeed the very words are no longer acceptable. The government mantra is, “We are all Rwandans now.”      

Politicians or citizens engaging in divisionism, as it is now called, face lengthy imprisonment or worse.

Some Hutu critics of Kagame, who maintain divisonism is merely a strategy to allow a Tutsi minority ruling elite to maintain control of a Hutu majority population, have been forced into exile, mysteriously disappeared or become the victims of unsolved assassinations.

Human Rights Watch are critical of Kagame’s authoritarian style of government claiming that denial of the Hutu political voice will only suppress tensions in the short-term and could be bottling up a resentment that may  manifest itself in another future genocide.

Rwanda still remains heavily dependent on the services of humanitarian NGOs (non governmental organisations) and financial aid from the international community. Whilst Kagame accepts this with a degree of gratitude there appears to be an underlying tone of resentment.

This is borne out of the west’s lack of intervention at the time of the genocide and an assertion that only five percent of agencies involved, “are doing it altruistically.”  Kagame however appears to be a very astute operator and uses the guilt of the western world to his country’s advantage.

Whilst his fiercest critics brand him a war criminal and liken him to Hitler, he has at the same time received huge international acclaim for his achievements and enjoys the support of Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and the Chief Executives of Google and Starbucks.

Beneath the surface the political situation may be more fragile than it seems and it will be very interesting to keep an eye on the forthcoming elections. However I suspect and hope that they will go off peacefully.

You can be assured that VSO will also be watching the situation very closely and I have every confidence that if there is any hint of political instability, surrounding the elections, that may compromise the safety of its volunteers I will not be boarding that flight in September and those already in place will be evacuated post-haste.

Watch this space………..

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Sherlock – a high functioning sociopath!
July 27, 2010

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and his companion biographer Dr John Watson first appeared in print in the 1887 edition of Beeton’s Christmas Annual.

Subsequent adventures drew popular acclaim and by 1891 a series of short stories and serialised novels regularly featured in The Strand Magazine. By the time the last of these appeared in 1927 the detective consultancy operating out of 221b Baker Street had become a national institution.

Through the stage adaptations, films and TV series that followed, Holmes and Watson have  proved to be the most enduring of literary characters. The Guinness World Records has listed Holmes as the “most portrayed movie character,” having been played by 75 different actors in over 211 films.  

The instantly recognisable image of Holmes as a pipe smoking sleuth clad in frock coat and deerstalker, peering through a magnifying glass, is taken from the original illustrations by Sidney Paget which accompanied the stories.     

In the 1940s Basil Rathbone’s monochromatic Hollywood performances famously drew on these and his portrayal of Holmes set the standard for those that followed, although I don’t recall ever seeing one of these films in its entirety.

When I was young my Mum used to work at the local Byron Cinema and received a weekly entitlement of complementary tickets. I consequently became a bit of a film buff at quite an early age.

My first encounter with Holmes and Watson was therefore through the big screen in Hound of the Baskervilles, a 1959 film in glorious Technicolor, with Peter Cushing taking the lead role.

However as far as I’m concerned the definitive Holmes, to date, was splendidly played by the late Jeremy Brett in the Granada TV series which originally ran for ten years from 1984 and even now is frequently repeated.    

More recently a 2009 film starring Robert Downey Junior received mixed reviews for its unconventional portrayal of the Victorian crime buster and his relationship with stalwart companion Watson, played by Jude Law, but I haven’t seen it and will therefore suspend judgment.   

Each of these actors has brought something different to their interpretation of this most celebrated of detectives but the setting has until now always remained as smoggy Victorian London with its attendant gas lights and hansom cabs.      

On Sunday night we were treated to something different, the first of a new three-part BBC series called Sherlock in which Conan Doyle’s characters inhabit present day London. The show has been created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, both well-known as writers for the highly successful Dr Who series.     

It might be argued that there was something of the Doctor in Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Sherlock; the world’s only consulting detective and a master of modern technology in solving crimes. 

The essential intellectual brilliance, logical reasoning, and aloofness of Conan Doyle’s original character remain but there is an added dynamism and urgency about 21st century Sherlock.

He is very much a man of our times. The three pipe problem has been replaced by the three (nicotine) patch problem, he advertises his services on a website and his favoured form of communication is the text message.   

The dialogue is slick and witty, as illustrated by Sherlock’s riposte to an antagonistic policeman, “I am not a psychopath I’m a high functioning sociopath!”        

Martin Freeman’s John Watson is also seemingly very contemporary, recently discharged as an army doctor  and returning wounded from a traumatic posting in Afghanistan, but amazingly this is exactly the background created for the character by Conan Doyle back in 1897!         

The first episode A Study in Pink was reviewed in the Guardian as being strong on characterisation but thin on plot. It was however quite clearly based on Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel A Study in Scarlet.

Much of that book is given over to providing background information about Holmes and Watson prior to their meeting through a mutual friend. Its title is derived from Holmes’ description to Watson of the murder investigation in which they are involved as his “study in scarlet”.

He explains, “There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.”          

A Study in Pink owes its title, more simply, to the colour of the dress worn by a murder victim and her missing matching suitcase!

However the murderer remains a London cabby (but this time not the hansom variety) with limited life expectancy due to an aortic aneurism. His modus operandi is also faithful to the original. He offers his victims a choice of two pills, a game of Russian roulette, one being harmless and the other poisoned!

I am usually rather a traditionalist when it comes to film and TV adaptations but I thought Sherlock was fresh and innovative whilst maintaining the spirit and integrity of the original.

I look forward to seeing the next two episodes and I suspect a further series featuring the dynamic duo from way down on Baker St.     

My Dad Had One of Those!
July 25, 2010

Yesterday we caught up with old friends from way back. They had come across for the annual Triumph TR International event being held in Malvern at the Three Counties Showground.

It got me thinking about a Top Gear publication I’d come across in book shops, ‘My Dad Had One of Those.’ I seem to remember thumbing through it and thinking, actually my Dad didn’t have any of those and neither did I!    

Before I go any further, perhaps I should explain that I am in no way shape or form a motor head. I’m not even a Top Gear regular but if there’s nothing better to do I’ll watch it.

I have, though, always been drawn to the aesthetic aspect of cars. As a kid I had a collection of Dinky models second to none (sadly all thrown out in the dim and distant past) and would dash around my home town with the I Spy Book of Cars ticking off those I had seen.

These, of course, were the days when we had a car industry and different models each had their own distinctive shape and character.

I admit my interest really comes to an end at that very superficial level. What happens underneath the bonnet has always been a bit of a mystery to me and I’ve never had the slightest desire to grovel around in an inspection pit and get covered from head to toe in engine oil.

Anyway here for the benefit of my kids, who of course won’t have the slightest interest, are those cars your Dad (& Mum) have known and loved (or not) over the years:  

Having passed my driving test as a 17-year-old, in December ’70 (spookily, I found out later it was on the birthday of my yet to be met, wife) I was lucky enough to have my own car from the outset although I was still in the lower sixth form at the time.

I had previously taken a break from school (after disappointing O level results) and worked in a bank for a year. During that time I earned enough to buy a second-hand 1960s Triumph Herald.

It was duo-tone in green and white with a walnut laminated dashboard and white rubber bumpers. It served me well, all the way through to my final year in higher education, taking me backwards and forwards from Nottingham to Birmingham. I loved it.

Chris is keen for me to point out that she also passed her test first time, shortly after her 17th birthday, having learned to drive in a grey, split screen Morris Minor passed on to her from her Mum.   

My second car was a VW Beetle (in ivory as I recall, not common white), with its air-cooled engine at the rear and luggage space up front. It had a 6 volt battery which caused a few problems from time to time, and night driving was as if by candle light!  

However, it was reliable enough to take us on our first European motoring holiday together, down through Belgium, Holland and Germany in 1975.

Next up, was a harvest gold Mini (K reg.) which was the car we went away from our wedding in, in 1978.    

Early married life saw us upgrade to a Ford Cortina (Mk3). It was red with a rakish white flash – very Life on Mars! I remember we bought it from a dealer called Clifford Duck in Hall Green, Birmingham. We must have been quackers!

I never really took to the Cortina and it wasn’t long before we traded  up for an S reg. Ford Fiesta in light blue. This was our first hatch back and we will always remember it as the car in which we drove to Istanbul and back, over 3000 miles in total. It was 1981 and, looking back, a very adventurous thing to do at that time.

In 1982 we splashed out for our first brand new car, another Fiesta, in chocolate-brown with a blue stripe which sounds awful now. That was the second of three Fiestas – we must have liked them!

Following Fiesta number three, in a nice shade of beige, we went Japanese for the first time with a Nissan Micra (in red).

Shortly after that we became a two car family. Having relocated from Brum to rural Upton and Chris being at home with two pre school children she needed her own car. With a helping hand from my Mum & Dad we were able to get her a second-hand Mini in dark brown.

Eventually Chris took on the Micra which she ran for many years before changing to a new X reg. (2000) Renault Clio Grande (blue) which was passed on to Nicci in 2007, as her first car. It’s seen better days but is still giving good service on her daily commute between Oxford and Waddesdon.

Chris replaced it with a new black Peugeot 107 which she loves and intends to stick with for some time yet (I hope!)

Meanwhile since the late ‘80s I’ve been through: a Vauxhall Cavalier Concept (white), a Vauxhall Astra Estate (green) – I was never really happy with either of those – two Suzuki Vitaras, a JLK (jade) and  a Grand Vitara (blue) – both of which I loved but they drank petrol, a Citroen Xsara Picasso (grey) and currently a Peugeot 207 SW (green).

The Picasso was lost in rather dramatic style, written off after being submerged under the muddy waters of the Avon, while parked up in Tewkesbury during the floods of three years ago!

I hadn’t realised our back catalogue was quite so extensive, between us a surprising eighteen cars in total over a 40 year period (unless I’ve missed one out somewhere!)

A little bit of needle…..
July 24, 2010

There was quite a bit of needle about this week!

BNP racist (and MEP!) Nick Griffin (seen well to the right…) was rather needled when, at very short notice, his invitation to attend the Queen’s garden party at Buckingham Palace was withdrawn.

Many would say he should never have been invited in the first place but it didn’t matter as boastful claims, on his website, that he would be, “welcomed at Buckingham Palace by Her Majesty the Queen,” and that, “this event shows how far this party (the BNP) has come,” were enough for him to be banned on the grounds of insanity and exploiting the invitation for political purposes.  

Of course, having missed out on the cucumber sandwiches, he was now able to play the victimization card, making capital of what he described as a, “thoroughly unBritish outrage,” which subsequently picked up front page coverage in most of the dailies.

Another Nick, this time Clegg, needled a few of his coalition friends, and turned the air blue on both sides of the house, during PM’s questions.

While the master was away in Washington, playing down the special relationshipCleggy had his first opportunity to stand-in and promptly dropped a brick by referring to the ‘illegal’ invasion of Iraq.

The Speaker of the House and Cleggy’s Tory mates might not have been impressed by this gaffe but at least Jack, the grim reaper, Straw enjoyed a laugh at his expense.  

Apparently Cleggy is rather puzzled why a recent independent survey shows the yellows standing at 13% in the polls whilst his true blue mates are at 44%. I have to take my hat off to DC, he has played this coalition game to perfection!        

There was a bit of sporting needle on Le Tour, when Alberto Contador flouted an unwritten cycling rule by kicking on to build up a lead over his main rival, Luxemburg’s Andy Schleck, who had to stop and perform running repairs on his bike chain.   

It’s ironic, if not down right hypocritical, that in a sporting event renowned for its cheating, through the illegal use of performance enhancing substances, blood transfusions etc, that something as relatively insignificant as this caused such a fuss!  

Surely, if a cycle chain slips or is broken, it is unfortunate for the rider, but should be accepted as part and parcel of the race in a similar way to a Formula 1 car shredding a tyre or developing an engine fault!

Anyway the sporting etiquette of Le Tour was already set in only its second year, 1904, with recorded incidents as diverse as: booby trapping the road with tin tacks, hitching a lift in a passing voiture, the beating up of rival competitors and blackmail!     

Last but not least I’m also feeling a tad needled!

A visit to the local medical centre, yesterday afternoon, to discuss the immunisation requirements, for my VSO posting in Rwanda, led to an impromptu swine flu jab.

Just a little prick sir,” and, “by the way you might have a headache and feel nauseous over the weekend!”

This is to be swiftly followed up with yellow fever on Monday and the first of three rabies injections on Wednesday. I can’t wait!

Aliens at ‘eadingley!
July 23, 2010

It were right cold at ‘eadingley yesterday!

Beneath leaden skies and sheltering from a biting wind full of Yorkshire grit, a sparse crowd had gathered to watch the spectacle. It was a day for a flat cap, muffler and a thermos of piping hot cream of tomato soup.

The aliens clattered down the steps of the ufo that has alighted amidst the old north stand striking a discordant note that reverberates around this historic Leeds sporting venue. It carries the name, the Carnegie Pavilion!

The scene might have been from a Spielberg movie. It was not difficult to imagine little green men emerging from this equally green monstrosity, but instead it was the alien cricketers of Pakistan and Australia who had been condemned to play this second test, of a two match series, in some distant corner of England’s green and pleasant land.     

The local Asians and Australians have not responded in the numbers expected when Headingley was selected to stage this match. The occasional crescent and star twinkled against a fluttering green background but there were precious few men from down under sporting the gold and green.

Those Yorkshire members present had come largely out of curiosity and the opportunity to watch some international cricket, devoid of the emotional commitment involved when England play. Of course they were not averse to rooting for Pakistan, based on the anybody but the Aussies principle, and to offering captain Ricky Ponting the benefit of their combined wisdom and wit!

However, late in the day RP had the last laugh, well more a grim smile of determination really. His Australian team, although still behind in the game, had rallied from their catastrophic first day dismissal for 88 restricting Pakistan’s first innings lead to only 170, when it should have been much more, and by the end of play had all but eliminated the deficit for the loss of only two wickets.

On the way Ponting had survived a first ball appeal for lbw, that looked plumb to every one in the ground but umpire Rudi Koertzen, and made the most of this good fortune to register the top score to date, a determined 61 not out. Along the way, when on 40, he passed a significant personal milestone of 12,000 test match career runs which puts him 2nd in the all time list of scorers.

In recent years Ponting has often been subject to English boos and jeers when walking out to be bat (not cricket in my opinion) but thankfully the Yorkshire faithful gave him the tremendous ovation his achievement deserves.

It was a day of records in the cricketing world. Thousands of miles away in Galle, a wonderful cricket setting I once visited when holidaying in Sri Lanka and now thankfully restored following the tsunami of 2004, Muttiah Muralitheran, wizard of spin, claimed his 800th test wicket.

It was achieved in dramatic style, Muri in his last match before retiring from test cricket, taking the final Indian wicket to win the match for Sri Lanaka and end his career on a land mark figure which is unlikely ever to be surpassed.

Meanwhile, nearer to home, Stuart Broad bowled my team, Notts, to an emphatic victory over Warwickshire at Edgbaston. He finished with a career best 8-52 in what was a rare appearance for the county due to his central contract with England.

This result leaves Notts nicely poised to take the lead in the county championship race and they still have a game in hand on current leaders Yorkshire.

Nest Thursday Broad and, Notts team-mate, Graham Swann will be returning to England International duty in the First Test against Pakistan at their home ground, Trent Bridge. I hope to be there, weather permitting.

Now that is a ground with a proper pavilion!

‘Hip’Politicians & the Grange Hill Academy?
July 21, 2010

So just what is it with politicians and references to pop culture? They never seem able to get it quite right and invariably finish up with egg on their faces or worse!

The latest in a long line of cringe worthy moments, of this type, came from PM David Cameron earlier this week. On meeting Liverpool born TV producer and screenwriter Phil Redmond, creator of cult ‘80s children’s TV series Grange Hill, DC tried to up his street cred by coming out  as a huge fan and naming ‘Gripper’ Stebson as one of his role models in life!

It might have been a joke DC (it’s hard to tell, you’re not a natural when it comes to stand up comedy are you?) but admitting to hero worshipping a bully and a racist is not too clever is it?

I doubt ‘Gripper’ would have voted Tory, more likely BNP!

But Cameron is not alone when it comes to this particular type of banana skin.

Remember back in 1997, when newly elected PM Tony Blair was quick to tell us he had been in a band called Ugly Rumours, whilst at Oxford, and then went on to embrace Brit Pop by inviting Noel Gallagher to a Number 10 reception and that stage-managed, cheesy photo opportunity?  It certainly wasn’t one of his better moments! 

Not to be out done, Gordon Brown, whilst Chancellor, tried to shake off his dour image by showing off  an eclectic taste in popular TV, and music. He claimed he was a big fan of X-factor and that the Arctic Monkeys featured on his  iPod, along side Cold Play, U2, (and this is where he slipped up) James Blunt!  

He then showed just how un-hip he really was with his famous, “The Arctic Monkeys really wake you up in the morning,” quote. It just didn’t seem right some how!

And then there was Lord Prezza, back in his Deputy PM days, attending the BRIT Awards and getting a bucket of icy water thrown over him for his pains.

Danbert Nobacon, of Chumbawamba, justified his anarchic actions by saying,

 “If John Prescott has the nerve to turn up at events like the BRIT Awards in a vain attempt to make Labour seem cool and trendy then he deserves all we can throw at him.”

Harking back to Grange Hill I wonder if, ‘born again Blairite’, Michael Gove would have considered the North London comprehensive school for academy status? It’s more likely they would have been in special measures I suppose, but then again it looks Gove is a Grange Hill old boy! (right: Gove, far right: Zammo)

SKWID 3 – Next steps towards Rwanda…
July 20, 2010

The last day and a half, at Harborne Hall, have focussed on: negotiation skills, conflict resolution, monitoring evaluation and review, co-operative facilitation and personal self-evaluation.     

I arrived home this p.m. exhausted, with my head buzzing and a to do list as long as my arm. The VSO delivered training is now completed and it’s down to self preparation from here on in. The main knowledge/skills development priorities for me will be to continue my French refresher course, which to be honest  has slipped off the agenda recently, and to make use of VSO’s online course in basic Kinyarwanda.

The SKWID training has served to reinforce my belief that I have the requisite knowledge and skills to make an effective education manager, within the Rwandan context, but I am still concerned that I might be hindered by my inability to communicate effectively with people who have varying degrees of English, whilst my French is limited and my Kinyarwanda currently non-existent!

The other issues I need to address are more practical things like, making sure any outstanding medical requirements are met and resolving the perennial packing problem. I’m awaiting my flight details but the weight allowance is likely to be quite restricted. I also need to ascertain whether I can get my crash helmet (which I picked up today) as well as a laptop and camera equipment in my hand luggage!      

The SKWID group bonded really well which made the training activities much more enjoyable and far less daunting than they might otherwise have been. It’s always interesting to meet and get to know new people and it never fails to surprise me how quickly complete strangers open up and relax in each other’s company.

As we socialized over a few well-earned drinks each evening  it felt strange to think that in two months time we will be scattered throughout the developing world,  getting to grips with our various VSO placements, in such varied places as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and of course Rwanda!  

I was the only short-term volunteer there this weekend. Everyone else has committed to at least twelve months with a number away on full two-year placements. I wish them all the very best and hope that their time overseas will provide provide rewarding, life changing experiences.  

All things being equal I fly out on September 4th, which all of a sudden seems so much closer now! I believe that there are ten volunteers who will be heading for placements in Rwanda on that date and I guess right now we will all be feeling similar degrees of excitement,  anticipation and apprehension!

SKWID 2: Octopussy sunk by Bulletproof Bomb!
July 18, 2010

Tomorrow morning each of  us, in turn, has to lead a practical activity involving five of our fellow volunteers. This is to demonstrate our facilitation skills. We will receive feedback on our performance from the participating  group members and one of the  course leaders who will be observing – so a bit like Ofsted for VSO volunteers then!  

The activities we have chosen for the facilitation exercise are meant to lend themselves for adaptation and use within a VSO context overseas. My activity is called  the Atomic Bomb Shelter!  which is intended as a discussion tool for information gathering about local cultural norms and perceptions or an analysis of people’s rights and capabilities.

If you are reading this you might want to have a go!

When the three-minute warning of a nuclear attack is sounded, ten community members make their way towards the atomic bomb shelter. Unfortunately there is only room for six  people. A decision has to be made about which four get left outside.

The ten contenders are: a police officer with a gun, a 16-year-old girl with learning disabilities, a 19-year-old homosexual Olympic athlete, a 35-year-old male biochemist in a wheelchair, a 50-year-old black female pastor, a 21-year-old female jazz singer, a peasant woman pregnant for the first time, a 70-year-old philosopher grandfather, a Chinese communist man specialising in medical sciences and a 40-year-old retired commercial sex worker.

Easy decisions then? As I’m sure you have guessed, there is no right answer but it’s all about the process and picking up people’s  prejudices and stereotyping

When today’s programme came to an end, at 8.00pm, most of us  beat a hasty path to the local pub, The Bell, for some liquid refreshment and the sunday evening quiz. We entered two teams and, with the SKWID theme in mind, named them Calamari and Octopussy. As you might imagine the VSO rivalry was intense. I was in the Octopussy team and we were going well until the last round which consisted of ten one-point questions.

If you got all of these correct an extra five points were awarded, making a possible 15, but get any single question wrong and it resulted in a big fat zero for the round. We were on a roll and going for the kill but blew ourselves out of the water with a Wacky Races question!

Who drove the Bulletproof Bomb?  

We went for broke and  gambled everything on Dick Dastardly only to find it was……………………..?  

This naive tactical error enabled the non risk taking Calamari team to beat us by 2 points and gain the bragging rights.

Anyway it’s time for bed now and another full day of training to look forward to tomorrow!

Oh yes we were, of course, undone by the Anthill Mob!

SKWID
July 18, 2010

I’m posting from the VSO training centre, Harborne Hall, near Birmingham. I arrived yesterday lunchtime and spent four hours on health and security issues when working in the developing world –  everything from road safety and precautions against mugging through to protection  against rabies, malaria, yellow fever and of course HIV Aids.      

Yesterday evening  we embarked on the SKWID course (9.00pm finish!). This is nothing to do with Paul the octopus but Skills and Knowledge for Working In Development!

The programme is very interactive with lots of  games, role play and small group problem solving exercises. The delivery has been very pacey and is set to continue in this manner through to Tuesday lunchtime when we are released! The instructors are all returned volunteers who are able to personalise the VSO script with their various  experiences in the field, which is very useful.       

There are 18 course members, with a 12/6 female – male split, from a range of backgrounds but predominantly education and health. I have met a volunteer who will be going out to Rwanda at the same time as me but she will be about 50km from my placement and is staying for a year. Her role will be as a teacher advisor, hopefully impacting on curriculum delivery, whereas mine will be to build management capacity. However there is enough common ground for us to be able to share ideas.

We’ve just had sunday lunch – quiche and chips – and the afternoon session is beckoning. We go through to 8.00pm this evening and then hopefully we’ll be let out for good behaviour to visit The Bell  for Quiz Night!. Last time I was here for training, back in February, our  VSO team won the gallon of beer prize which rather upset the regulars!      

Ok, time to reconvene and hone my  skills for developing participation techniques in decision-making and action planning!

‘Heroes’ and ‘Villains’
July 17, 2010

Definitions of a hero:

  1. A brave person
  2. A person noted for their courage or nobility of purpose especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life
  3. A person noted for special achievement in a particular field
  4. The main character in a drama or other literary work
  5. A celebrity

Definitions of a villain:

  1. A wicked or  evil person
  2. A mean, worthless character in a story or play
  3. A scoundrel
  4. An antagonist who has a negative effect on other people

The Facebook Fiasco!

I don’t agree with David Cameron’s political intervention, because you are never going to win in a situation like this. Firstly, you can’t control people’s opinions or take away their right to express them (not yet anyway!) and secondly, it only serves to draw attention to those misguided enough to have stated their support for Raoul Moat, as some kind of folk hero.      

Moat may have gained celebrity, in some quarters, as  an anti-hero but in actual fact he was a self pittying, wicked and evil villain.

He may also have been a victim whose cries for help went unheeded by the support services. That’s certainly the image being generated by edited extracts from his tapes which have been aired by the media. The verdict is still out on that one.

If there are heroes to come out of this whole sorry saga try PC Rathband who, in the line of public duty, happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, was shot in the face and has lost his sight. And what about Moat’s children, who he supposedly loved so much? They have not only lost a father but will have to grow up with the legacy of his murderous exploits.    

Graduate Tax

I’m rather undecided about Vince Cable’s graduate tax but it’s certainly worth exploring further. On the face of it, it seems not a bad idea for students but less good for certain universities. Like everything the devil will be in the detail.

However I agree totally with his views on reducing some university courses to two years, flexible part-time modular degrees and raising the status of vocational training. University is not right for everyone and the previous government were misguided in implying it should be an aspiration for at least 50% of all school leavers.

Of course, modular degrees through distance learning are nothing new. I earned a degree that way back in the late 1970s through, what in my opinion is one of the greatest legacies of any Labour government, the Open University.  

Back to Vince Cable, it was reassuring to hear that voice of calm reason once again. His talents are clearly being wasted and I’m sure he would have made a far more considered and compassionate chancellor than Cameron’s buddy, Osborne. However I do concede there would be logistical difficulties having a PM and chancellor from different parties.       

In pantomime terms, which are probably those best suited to the coalition government at the moment, Vince cuts a lonely heroic figure surrounded by celebrity seeking villains!

The Famous Five

I admit to being rather ambivalent about the over hyped and much publicised Take That reunion but, back in the mid ’90s, as  a father of twelve and thirteen year old girls I remember well the female hysteria that accompanied Robbie’s dramatic exit and the subsequent break up of the boy band.

Ostensibly this was a consequence of an apparent disagreement over how the band should develop and the type of music they should be producing but quickly escalated into a battle of giant egos. Robbie and Garry were the main antagonists, and portrayed as the villains of the piece.    

Robbie, a celebrity hero to many in his solo career, has enjoyed his time in the sun including an 80 million pound recording contract with EMI, and whilst hardly on the bread line, his current standing and sales have somewhat slipped. And of course he never really conquered America did he?

Meanwhile, since 2006 the reformed Take That quartet has enjoyed meteoric success, sales are soaring, and their record-breaking The Circus Live has taken the USA by storm. Their heroic celebrity status of yesteryear has well and truly been re-established.  

Old cynics, like me, will say Robbie has got much more to gain than the rest of the boys by hitching his star to the Take That wagon.

The new album and the subsequent tour will undoubtedly be the music industry stories of the year and I am pleased for their legion of loyal fans, mostly in their late 20’s and 30 some things now I guess!

Their type of music never did and still doesn’t do anything for me other than by association with my kids growing up.        

I hope those five boys from yesteryear have matured into men who genuinely have buried their differences and that there is more to this reunion than pound signs!

Once the album is out, I have my doubts they will make it through the tour. Rumour has it Robbie suffers stage fright! Could that be his get out of jail card if he needs it?