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Pipe dreams from the Shire…
December 30, 2010

This is the final post on the outofafrica2010 blog.

I set up the blog back in March. As the title suggests it was primarily intended to keep interested family and friends up to date with my exploits in Zambia and Rwanda during 2010.

What might have been a chore quickly developed into an enjoyable part of my daily routine.

Outside of my excursions to Africa the blog has gradually morphed into a record of daily life, from the Shire, consisting of random musings on a range of current affairs and sports events.

Along the way I have some how acquired a group of regular followers and have much appreciated their kind comments. The blog could quite easily have fallen by the way but for that encouragement.

I find the following current site data for my daily ramblings quite staggering.

Apparently over the last ten months I have posted 163 times.

At the time of writing there have been a total of 58,748 views (an average of 200 per day) and 218 comments have been left on the site.  

The busiest day was as recently as December 21st when there were 620 hits!

I intend to continue writing in 2011 but as from 1st January you will need to log on to my new blog:

http://pipedreamsfromtheshire@wordpress.com     

I hope you will want to stick with me and I look forward to receiving your comments.

Happy New Year to all my readers!

 30.12.2010   

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Compare the meerkats.com
July 13, 2010

Gove Compare…

As a recently retired primary school headteacher, try as I might, I’m still finding it difficult to distance myself  from or  prevent myself getting worked up by education news stories   – and there have been a few good ones recently!

Fast tracked, rising star of the Tory party, education minister Michael Gove is quickly realising that being in power is just a bit more difficult than being in opposition.

Life on the government front bench brings with it far greater media scrutiny, particularly when you drop a brick or two – well five actually!  That’s how many incorrect lists, so far, he has published regarding the schools that will be affected following his axing of the Building Schools for the Future programme

Gove’s facial expression coupled with a propensity to blink furiously has led the rather superior, and patronising minister to be likened to a meerkat by Ann Treneman, writing in The Times. So to paraphrase two well-known insurance adverts, gove compare the meerkats!

What do you think?

If his ineptitude were not so serious for all those students, staff and parents who have had their hopes falsely raised and then promptly dashed again, it would be funny.

Does he have aides to help him with his weekly shopping list?

 

DC Terrified!

David Cameron (he’s the one on the right just in case, like me, you have difficulty telling the two apart!)  revealed to Sunday’s News of the World that he is TERRIFIED at the thought of sending his kids to a state secondary school in central London.

The Eton educated prime minister has always made great political capital of the fact he desperately wants his children to go through the state education system, so is this an early warning that he might be having second thoughts?

He announced,” I’ve got a six-year-old and a four-year old and I’m terrified living in central London”, “There aren’t enough good school places, that’s the problem.”          

Well isn’t that wonderful, towards the end of the school year when workloads are often at their greatest and energy levels at their lowest, for the hard pressed and genuinely hard-working teachers of central London to receive such a vote of confidence from the Prime Minister?  

I wonder how much his assertions are based simply on superficial schools data, or is it just another too good to miss opportunity to have another go at the previous government’s record on education?

I suspect he is so busy that he has aides who do the groundwork for him but if he really wants to keep in touch perhaps he should do as other working parents in the real world do, get on his bike (don’t forget your helmet & keep to the left) and visit the local schools, talk to the staff and the students and get a real feel for what’s going on. He might be pleasantly surprised.  

S*** Ms Atkins!

I couldn’t believe what I was reading on the front page of the Sunday Times. I had to pinch myself – it wasn’t April 1st was it?

Zenna Atkins, soon to step down from her position as chairwoman of Ofsted, is either cracking under the strain or demob happy. Either way Ms Atkins, who interestingly left school with just one O-level to her name (my guess is domestic science!) has announced, to a fanfare of trumpets, that it is her personal opinion that every school needs a ‘useless teacher’!

She maintains that primary schools, in particular, should provide opportunities for children to identify and deal with people in authority who can’t adequately perform their job. “One really good thing about primary school is that every kid learns how to deal with a really s*** teacher”.

This is of course beyond belief from a member of an organisation that has always taken itself far too seriously, but is so ridiculous it isn’t even worth getting worked up about. I’ve always considered Ofsted a bit of an irrelevance but a necessary evil. With this sort of woman in charge it is little wonder that an increasing number of heads, teachers and parents don’t pay too much attention to their findings.

However Zenna’s idea does raise all sorts of interesting questions?

  • Will there be a new category for Ofsted’s classroom inspection judgements :  outstanding, good, satisfactory, less than satisfactory, s****    
  • Will it be held against schools if none of the teachers meet Ofsted’s new s*** teacher criteria?
  • Will governors and headteacher’s be required to officially nominate a **** teacher and write it into their job description?
  • If the school is having difficulty finding a s*** teacher will the head be expected to ask a teacher to lower their standards a bit and take on the responsibility?
  • Will parents be informed when it is their child’s turn to be in the s*** teacher’s class or left to work it out for themselves?   
  • Will the nominated s*** teacher be entitled to a TLR (Teaching and Learning Responsibility) payment?  or
  • Will there be a separate pay scale for s*** teachers with a lower threshold that teachers can apply to go through?  
  • Will outstanding and good schools be able to advertise for a s*** teacher in order to fill that gap in their staffing profile?
  • Will parents be able to claim compensation if a school is unable to provide their child with a s*** teacher for one out of their seven years in primary education?

Summer Lovin’
July 3, 2010

I wish I had thought of it first!

Friday’s Newsnight programme ran a wicked report on the 2 C’s coalition, with ‘Summer Lovin’ providing the background music, and finished with the two politicians ‘made over’ as Danny & Sandy on the Grease movie poster!

This was all linked to yesterday’s press announcements of a proposed Voting Reform Referendum to be held next May. This is what ‘Cleggy’ sold his soul and his party for. However he’s been short-changed. The referendum will offer the AV system as an alternative to first past the post. But this is not the proportional representation which the Lib Dems have long craved.   

True to form the Tories  also plan to lump the voting reform (which they are opposed to) together with proposals to equalise parliamentary constituencies, which they think will benefit them. They have a track record on this type of manoeuvre, of course, having redrawn the constituency boundaries, in their favour, during the Thatcher years.

With the voting reform referendum likely to be scheduled alongside English council , Welsh assembly & Scottish parliament elections, it seems the Tories have also sought to play down its significance. The May 2011 date, ten months hence, also ties the Lib Dems even more closely into the current coalition.

I had to laugh, having listened to  ‘Ozzy’ Osborne pontificating about the magnanimous coalition government allowing voters to choose rather than telling them what to do!  A restricted choice is being offered and  the Lib Dems have been forced to compromise even on this cornerstone of the coalition pact.  

I believe electoral reform is long overdue. However if voting reform is being seriously considered then surely we should be given a full range of options.

Any how, if the Alternative Voting system is to be chosen by the electorate, I’m not sure what good it will do the Lib Dems. By the time the next election comes around they will have been hooked up with the Tories for so long that they will have totally lost their separate political identity.

A Bird’s Eye View & A Cotswold Country Garden
July 2, 2010

My Dad has been down, from Nottingham, to stay with us for a couple of days. 

We are fortunate to live in an area that has much to commend it, both in terms of natural beauty and places of interest to visit. To be honest, whilst being well-travelled within the UK  and overseas, we are somewhat guilty of failing to take full advantage of what we have on our own doorstep. Having people to stay provides an opportunity to rectify that situation.

Dad has always been keen on birds (the feathered variety!) so I took him for a leisurely drive along the Wye Valley to Symonds Yat. From atop Yat Rock we were able to peer down on the looping river below and use the RSPB telescopes to watch the peregrine falcons on the adjacent  rock face.   

I did come out in a cold sweat when we met a  school party in the car park, but I soon recovered!

Yesterday we drove out to the Cotswolds and the delightful Hidcote Manor Gardens. Hidcote is one of England’s great gardens but it must have been over 15 years since I had last visited!    

Hidcote, a National Trust property, designed and created by Lawrence Johnston (the ‘Quiet American Gardener’) in the Arts & Crafts style, is layed out in a series of ‘garden rooms’. Each has its own distinctive character and there are many unusual species. I’m not a plant buff but it wasn’t difficult to appreciate the vibrantly coloured herbaceous borders.

Lawrence Johnston, born in Paris to a wealthy American stockbroker family, came to England to study at Cambridge University. Following his graduation, he became a naturalised Englishman and joined the British Army, serving in the Second Boer War and World War I,  reaching the rank of Major.

In 1907, Johnston and his mother purchased Hidcote and for 40 years he worked on developing the wonderful gardens that we say today. An enthusiastic plant collector, he sponsored and undertook several expeditions in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America to bring back rare specimens. In 1948 Hidcote was bequeathed to the National Trust and he moved to France.

Murray goes for Tsonga and it’s ‘Czechmate’ for Berdych!
July 1, 2010

Wimbledon is hotting up, literally! Centre court fans, basking in the sunshine (how many times has that sliding roof actually been used since it was installed?), cheered Andy Murray on to a 3 sets to 1 victory over France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, yesterday afternoon. It wasn’t all plain sailing. Having lost the first set on a tie break, Murray very nearly conceded the second set in a similar manner but rode his luck, thanks to a costly lapse of judgement by Tsonga, and from there on never looked back.

His quarter-final victory was made all the more significant given that reigning champion and top seed Roger Federer stumbled to a sensational defeat against bouncing Czech, Tomas Berdych. The once invincible Federer, a tennis all time great if ever there was one, was totally out of sorts and his game as full of holes as a swiss cheese!     

The top and bottom of all this is the mouth-watering prospect of a Murray v Rafael Nadal semi final tomorrow. The 2008 champion (incidentally, Federer’s only previous Wimbledon defeat in the lat 8 years), missed last year’s tournament due to injury and with Federer out-of-the-way will fancy his chances of regaining the Wimbledon crown. Murray, of course, is one step closer to that elusive first British men’s singles championship since good old Fred Perry in 1936!  For the eventual winner, this semi-final might well prove tougher than the final!

Just when I was convincing myself this really was Murray’s year, I remembered that for Spain there is still a very real chance of  the World Cup/Wimbledon double. Ole, ole, ole, ole!

Fantasy Football
June 10, 2010

Yesterday, I was pleased to receive an email from a former colleague inviting me to take part in a World Cup competition, set up by her husband, aimed at raising PTA funds for my old school, Naunton Park. It follows a tried and tested format that he has used for previous international football tournaments, which involves predicting the score for every game and forecasting which teams will make the quarters, semis and the final, including the eventual winners. In addition extra points can be gained by four nominated goal scorers. It costs £3.00 to enter and if you are interested you can find out more at @ https://sites.google.com/site/billysworldcup

As always, I’ve let my heart rule my head and if my predictions work out England will be beating France in the quarters, Holland in the semis and lifting the trophy in Jo’burg after defeating Spain in the final on July 11th. A bit optimistic I know, but at this stage before a ball has been kicked in anger, you’ve  still got to  believe !  My nominated scorers are Villa (Spain), Messi (Argentina), Fabiano (Brazil) and then, after much deliberation, I’ve gone for  Wayne Rooney over Holland’s Van Persie . I hope that hasn’t put the kiss of death on him but if England are to win he has to score regularly and there’s no getting away from that.  

Now that I’ve got time on my hands, I’ve also submitted a team in the Daily Telegraph Fantasy Football World Cup Competition and set up a private Super League – ‘Tricky Tree League’ (PIN: 8004793). At the moment  ‘Bafana Bafana’ are set to win the league, as they are the only team in it! However if you would like to pick a team (£5.00 to enter) and have a bit of fun taking me on over the coming few weeks, log on @  http://fantasyfootball.telegraph.co.uk

There are cash prizes, but I wouldn’t get too excited about that at this stage!

My £50 million pound team will be starting the tournament playing a 3-5-2 formation. I’ve gone for  goal scoring potential throughout the team and on paper it looks pretty good to me:

James (Eng) 3.5m,

 Alves (Braz) 3.5m, Terry (Eng) 4.0m, Ramos (Spain) 4.3m

Pienaar (SA) 3.1m, Gerrard (Eng) 4.5m, Fabregas (Spain) 3.9m, Van der Vaart (Holl) 3.6m, Ronaldo (Port) 6.0m

Messi (Arg) 7.0m, Villa (Spain) 6.6m  

I admit to taking a gamble on ‘Calamity’ James as keeper (Fabio probably feels the same!) but I’ve got a sneaking feeling he might come good this time around. Pienar is in there on the basis that if South Africa are to do anything in the early stages he will have to shine. Also as I only shelled out 3.1m for him it allowed me to spend big on Ronaldo, Messi and Villa, hopefully the aces in the pack!

The Mandela way and it could be Capello for PM!
June 9, 2010

Whenever I travel for any period of time I try to insulate myself  from what is happening back in the UK, apart that is from crucial sporting fixtures. I still can’t believe that Blackpool were promoted to the Premiership at Forest’s expense!

This time around, of course, there was also the General Election and the people in Zambia seemed as interested in the result as the Book Bus volunteers did. I suppose the old colonial links linger longer than one might expect. I remember one hawker approaching me on the Zim-Zam Bridge and starting his sales pitch with, “How is Gordon Brown? How is David Cameron?” He then proceeded to demonstrate his knowledge of post war British prime ministers by asking after every one of them from Winston Churchill to Tony Blair!   

Since arriving home I’ve been catching up on the current political situation which, in a nutshell, seems to comprise of David Cameron and George Osborne (why does the film ‘Dumb and Dumber’ always spring to mind when I see them together?) telling us that economically things are worse than they first thought and that the painful spending cuts ahead, which will eventually get us out of the economic mess, are not of their making but totally created by the previous Government’s mismanagement (well there’s a novelty). They also seem very keen on the Canadian model of recovery, so watch out for the demolition boys  booking into a hospital near you!  

Apparently the new touchy, feely coalition government (actually I’ve not heard much from Cleggy since I got back) will unite the country by involving us in key decisions about spending cuts. I was almost taken in by that until I saw Cameron’s photo-shoot with Baroness Thatcher yesterday. What is that all about? As I recall consultation with anybody, including her cabinet, was never at the top of her list. I know the Iron Lady is old, frail and rusty now but I can’t see anything positive about the ‘new look’ Conservatives reminding us of her regime.   

Out of interest, I Googled ‘Cameron and Thatcher’ and interestingly the first thing that came up was a reference to the young Cameron criticising Mrs T’s stance on South Africa. So much so that her grumpy press secretary, Bernard Ingham, questioned whether Cameron really was a Conservative!

Mrs T (outstanding  global stateswoman that she was!) had of course dismissed the ANC as ‘terrorists’ and famously claimed that, “Anyone who believed that the ANC would ever rule South Africa was living in cloud cuckoo land.”

I would advise Cameron to move more towards Mandela’s methods of unifying the nation. Particularly with the football World Cup about to kick off, he should perhaps refer to John Carlin’s ‘Playing the Enemy’ (mentioned in an earlier posting) for his bedtime reading. Mandela was no fool and knew how to utilise a big sporting occasion to get the people behind him:  “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire; the power to unite the people that little else has…….”

I don’t know if Cameron is a sports fan but I would suggest, that currently, his closest allies, rather than Clegg, Osborne and Thatcher, might turn out to be Capello, Gerrard and Rooney. If they can do the business out in South Africa the ‘feel good’ factor in England (if not the UK) would  provide an immense political fillip. Mind you if Capello does pull it off I might be leading the call for the UK to elect its first Italian Prime Minister.    

And if we ever did see Fabio outside Number 10 he clearly favours the one finger salute to Churchill’s two!

         

Back in the Shire!
June 7, 2010

Gemma, when visiting us from her London base, always borrows from Tolkien and refers to being ‘back in  the Shire’. I must admit the same phrase crossed my mind as we rounded a bend in the A38 and there spread out before me, for the first time in six weeks, were Elgar’s enigmatic Malvern Hills.

I had of course just returned from what is arguably the most beautiful natural setting of any city in the world but the little patch of England’s green  and pleasant land which is Upton on Severn has much to commend it also and let’s face it, wherever you may travel, there really is no place like home!     

The overnight flight from Cape Town was waiting to touch down, as Heathrow opened up at 6.00am on sunday morning the sixth day of the sixth month and my 57th birthday! There was a bit of delay with reclaiming the luggage but Nicci and I both made it to the central coach station just in time for our onward transport, she to Oxford and me to Cheltenham.

I texted ahead to Chris alerting her to my eta and setting out my ‘birthday priorities’ : a hot shower, a strong black coffee and Marmite on  toast. It’s marvellous how one is so easily pleased after being away from home for a few weeks!  

By 10.30 I was back home and Chris thought it was her birthday as she waded through the countless bits of ‘Africana’ I had brought home with me, fabrics, ceramics, objects d’art , wine and of course a load of World Cup 2010 stuff, including my pride and joy a brightly decorated ‘vuvuzela’, a long thin plastic trumpet – you will see thousands of them over the next month, which I intend blowing with gusto every time England score!  

Today I have started the enormous task of downloading and editing my African photo collection, about 800 images in total! That will keep me busy for a while. I also intend re-editing some of my blog postings over the next few days, correcting a few spelling errors, adding bits of extra information and of course some of my many photographs. So next time you log on you may wish to  look back at some of my earlier postings.

Playing the Enemy – Invictus!
June 7, 2010

One thing that has become evident to me is that South Africans, of all complexions, are hugely proud of their country, their efforts to build a better and fairer society and their sporting heroes. It was a good day for their ‘football’ teams on saturday with both the round and oval balls.

As I was queing at ‘security’ in Cape Town airport, one of the staff bustled by and excitedly announced to her colleagues that South Africa had beaten Denmark 1-0 in a World Cup warm up match and then added “I’m so proud of the boys!” I can only guess what the reaction  of her and millions of others will be if ‘Bafana’ rise  to the occasion on Friday, in Jo’burg’s Soccer City Stadium, and beat Mexico in the opening game of the tournament. I wouldn’t bet against it!

Meanwhile back home (well in Wales!) an understrength Springboks team had come back from the dead to turn over Warren Gatland’s team at the Millennium Stadium – so no change there then!

Aptly enough the inflight film was the Clint Eastwood directed movie ‘Invictus’. When adapting books for the big screen why do Hollywood always insist on changing perfectly good titles? In this case the film is adapted from John Carlin’s splendid ‘Playing the Enemy’.   

In fairness, I am a big fan of Clint, both as an actor and a director, and given that, like all Americans, he knows diddly squat about rugby union, the sporting side of the story is pretty convincing with Matt Damon giving a surprisingly good portrayal of Springbok captain Francois Piennar (well they are both pretty wooden aren’t they?)  

Of course the real drama surrounds Nelson Mandela’s political master stroke in hi-jacking the 1995 Rugby World Cup, played in South Africa, to win over the hearts and minds of the rugby loving whites and to unify the newly formed Rainbow Nation behind the South African team , in such a way that the team pulled off an improbable but memorable victory over the All Blacks (Jonah Lomuh and all!). Needless to say Morgan Freeman is outstanding as Mandela.

The image of Mandela in the Springbok cap and wearing Piennar’s number 6 jersey is now an iconic moment both in sporting and political terms. This week Nelson has been trying to motivate ‘Bafana Bafana’ in a similar way, as I mentioned in an earlier posting, but sadly for them, and him, history is unlikely to repeat itself. But then again perhaps if they could fly Morgan Freeman out to do the team talk who knows?

District Six
June 7, 2010

On our final morning in Cape Town Nicci and I took breakfast in a pavement cafe looking out across Green Market. The clear blue sky, from earlier in the week, had returned and the sun was shining once again. We strolled around the stalls for a final time and watched street performers, traditional dancers and buskers, all trying to earn a rand or two to keep their heads above water.

We sauntered down towards the City Hall which was cordoned off to allow preparations for the World Cup Fans Fest. It was here that Nelson Mandela famously addressed the people of South Africa after his historic release from prison.

Our eventual destination was Butenkant Street and the award-winning District Six communty museum. It was an eye-opening and moving experience, well worth the visit.

District Six had long been a vibrant mixed community linked to the city and port of Cape Town. Life wasn’t perfect, there were often insanitary conditions and threats of violence from local gangs but over-riding all of this was a strong sense of community where people looked out for and after one another.

In 1966 the government, fearful that it was losing control in District Six, declared it a White Group Area. By 1982, the life of that community was over and 60,000 black and coloured people had been forcibly removed, their homes flattened by bulldozers, and relocated to the barren outlying area of the city now famously known as the Cape Flats.

The District Museum portrays the history of apartheid and its effects on these ordinary people through and intimate look at their personal stories. It is all there to see: the bench with its ‘whites only’ plaque, the before and after black and white photographs of the area, and above all countless memories and moving stories retold by the people who had their lives torn apart.

One story that sticks in my mind is of the man who, when relocated, took with him his beloved homing pigeons. He kept them in a newly built coop for some time, so that they could get used to their new surroundings, and then finally decided the time had come to release them . He waited apprehensively for them to return to their new home but not one bird did so. The next day, on his way to work, he decided to take a detour via District Six and there sitting on the waste land, where his home had formerly stood, sat his pigeons!