Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The last post

It seems that Fruitcake our esteemed Principal will soon be retiring, in a very permanent sense, to the lanes and puddles of wild water of cat-hereafter. He may yet surprise us, but it looks as though some pretty vital organs are shutting down. The Nice Lady has done her very best, and Fruitcake will be fondly remembered as an educationalist whose primary focus was relaxation and living for the moment.

So I will take the opportunity to say goodbye too. It's time to take a break from slagging off the venal, the over-ambitious and the out-of-touch (yes, you Cameron, Cleggers, and all the rest). Sarcasm is a medicine that only works for so long. Ah, you're thinking, he got the job! Actually, no, they wanted someone else for Secretary General, though I did get an email today that was a bit promising, and I've got another lead to follow up.

I leave you with a silly pun that has no political or deeper meaning that I can see. It's just the last joke I heard (thanks Dave last night):

They don't know who Yogi Bear is in Dubai - but those in Abu Dhabi do

This is how you do it. Thanks Fruitcake. Thanks everyone

Monday, 14 March 2011

What redundancy means to the worms

Redundancy can mean bouts of fitful job application followed by a week of checking your emails every ten minutes. Then there's the terror of something in your inbox with the subject Application for the post of Secretary General with the first few words Dear Mr Turer, thank you for your application. On this ...

Along with the email checking there can also be quite a lot of tea and coffee. And of course prevarication. Suddenly you understand where all the time comes for all those campaigns and Facebook groups. Then there's housework. After all, what exactly is the green stuff round the hinges of the toilet seat? Why, when you are organising the eggs in order of freshness - as reported before - do they sit better one way round than the other? (Pointy end inwards). And that fine black dust that's there again on the almond-white dado rail by the front door, is it anti-matter or something more allegorical?

Food and drink provide a much better means of prevaricating. For a start, there is a product beyond an arguably more shiny bath. Meals have to be made, so making them is nearly work, and you can listen to the radio (which is, by the way, a whole other subset in the table of prevarication). And everyone has to have a cup of tea at some point, and if you make it with leaves, the old leaves have to go somewhere.

The tea leaves at Fruitcake Miniature College, are pretty interesting at the moment (albeit in a prevaricatory way). Some are large and greeny-gold, others are tiny and black. Some are jasmine scented and others are flowers and not leaves at all. This is because the Head of Animal Care (luckily) does competitions, and she won a stack of posh tea a few months back. Consequently, the discarded tea leaves in the flower bed by the back door are more varied than they used to be. The worms there have certainly noticed, because I overheard them saying so while I wasn't looking at emails just now. (Brandling worms, since you ask).

"Are you getting a little bored of Lapsang Souchong, George/ina?"
"Well, Phillip/a, a little. I must say I enjoyed the Oolong we were getting last month"
"Me too. A pity the ground was a bit hard back then."
"Still, that's the advantage of this place, what with it being warmer nearer the house and nice tea water twice a day."
"More, sometimes. I don't know how those poor bastards out in the lane stand it."
"Urgh, cat poo!"
"That's another advantage. Enormous Howling Monster can't get comfortable under this tree."
"I think you mean camelia."
"Whatever. But I think my real favourite is that camomile he has at night. Mellow or what?"
"Yeah, can't complain with this little doss. Here he comes! Give Hilary and the boys/girls a shout. Ah, what can go wrong in spring time, hey?"

It might have been just my imagination, but as I returned to the boiling kettle I thought I heard little distant voices one more time: "Blackbird! Blackbird!"

Friday, 11 March 2011

Boiling blood

Pardon the blogging silence this week, I've been frantically hunting down work - which I suppose means that now I'm doing the opposite of ringing in sick. 

Meanwhile, I've found just enough time to see red about a couple of things: one, of course, connected with ESOL, and the other to do with the amazing vital fluid pumping round our veins and arteries that provides oxygen and nutrients to our cells - and so much vivid symbolism. I've also drunk a lot of fancy tea, and signed some petitions, of course.

Many ESOL teachers recently have been sending letters from their students to John Hayes MP, who is Minister for Business, Innovation, and Skills (which, just in case it isn't obvious, includes ESOL at Further Education colleges). In these letters students ask pertinent questions about the funding of the English classes they need to live and work here. Basically, the Hon Member is not answering their questions, and everyone is getting the same copy-and-paste blah about those not in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance paying 50% of the cost of their courses (which most can't afford). If you can stand the blue radiance all around him, you can see the smirk on his face at


From there, should you wish to, you can email him to ask him to actually engage with ESOL students' actual letters, rather than get his PA just to print the non-answer someone thought of for him at the beginning of the week. After all, ESOL students are taking the trouble to learn his language (funding permitting) and communicate directly with him. He should have the courtesy to respond meaningfully.

The other thing is blood. Mine is boiling. What could be more Big Society than going to a local hall courtesy of the Scouts, Territorial Army, or a church, then lying down on a curious stretcher thing (after some careful questions about sex, drugs and diseases) and having about a pint of your blood sucked out through a tube into a thick plastic bag. Afterwards, they give you a nice sit down with a cup of tea and a biscuit. It's quiet and like the 1950s only with better equipment. After twenty goes you get a badge. That's it. You do it for nothing. Because you are part of society, like the NHS. It's yours. It's ours. It's not David Cameron's to privatise. In fact they privatised the blood service in New Zealand, and donations dropped by 50%. So, if Big Society Vampire Holdings come anywhere near our National Blood Service, I'm off, probably in tears. Idiots. If the public don't want you to privatise woodlands, they certainly don't want you to privatise the glad giving of the blood in their veins. So far 32680 people agree with me to the extent that they've signed a petition at


Other news is that here at Fruitcake Miniature College, the Head of Animal Care has had to take our esteemed Principal to the Nice Lady to have his thyroid gland out (the other one - we have two). This should prevent the poor old bugger boiling over, as he's tended to do lately, but it's left a gap where the fur round his throat was. To make up for it he's getting anonymous no-frills white fish poached in milk.

Also I've been eavesdropping on worms, which is to do with the cups of fancy tea. I'll try to apply for fewer jobs and come back sooner next time to let you know all about it.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Fruitcake Miniature joke pack 1

Tea jokes

Q: Why do anarchists only ever make tea from tea-bags?
A: Because proper tea is theft                                        (With thanks to Lindyhop)

Q: Why don't you see many paramedics at posh tea parties?
A: Because they are usually too busy dealing with casualties?

Q: Why do eccentrics suddenly go back to having tea at 4.30?
A: Because they long to return to normality?

And so on

Political jokes

In the Barnsley by-election Labour come first, UKIP come second and the Conservatives come third. Fourth are the BNP, fifth is an independent ... and Nick Clegg says "We have proved them wrong in the past and we will prove them wrong again."

David Cameron decides to visit the desert while his friend Nick goes skiing. One day he comes to a wadi where a man is giving his camels a drink. "What is the most important thing your country can teach ours?" the man asks. "Democracy," says David at once. He carries on through the heat and comes to another wadi where a group of women are getting water. "What is the most important quality of life in your country?" they ask him. "The freedom to decide our own future," he says." Then, towards evening as he approaches a little town, a group of local dignitaries come to meet him. "You are very welcome to our hospitality," they tell him, "but why have you brought those arms dealers with you? " "Crikey!" David exclaims, turning round suddenly. "How did they get there?"

Nick Clegg goes skiing while his friend David is away in the Middle East and finds that he's unexpectedly popular on the piste. One person slids up to him and shakes him warmly by the glove. "Congratulations," they say "on embracing realpolitik." Another comes up and says "Congratulations on not letting Liberal principles get in the way of the Coalition." Then someone comes up and says "Congratulations on being the person in charge in the UK." "Crikey!" Nick exclaims, nearly falling off his skis. "How did that happen?"

Pirate jokes

Q: Why are pirates pirates?
A: Just because they 'arghh.'

The Evening Post is interviewing Long John Silver, a well-known Bristol Rovers supporter:
EP: Tell me, Mr Silver, how did you lose the leg?
LJS: Powder keg next to I went off and took me old leg 'an all.
EP: And why the hook, Mr Silver?
LJS: 'Twas 'and to 'and wi' Black Pete. Ee ad me 'and but I 'ad 'is black 'eart. Ah-hargh!
EP: And how did you lose the eye?
LJS: A seagull 'ad un.
EP: A seagull?
LJS: Argh, 'ee shit right in me eye!
EP: You mean seagull poo makes you blind?
LJS: Nay lad, I forgot about the 'ook.
A pirate is walking along the busy quayside with a parrot on his shoulder. A landlubber comes up to him, admiringly and says "Where did you get him?" "Oh, there are loads of them round here," the parrot replies.


Someone goes into a bar and asks for something. The person behind the bar makes an amusing rejoinder.

An Englishman, an Irishman, a Welshman, and a Scotsman walk into a bar. "Que clase de chiste es este?" says one member of the bar staff. "Je ne sais pas," replies the other, but Stephen Fry sitting in the corner has a chuckle.
  • There isn't another word for synonym
  • Nostalgia isn't what it used to be
  • Understatement is OK but hyperbole is totally fantastic
FMC wish all their readers a relaxing weekend. Come back next week for more fun.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Big Society Dream Re-alignment

Why does the birth channel go through haberdashery? This was the question in my brain when I woke up. It's typical of the nonsense we all find rattling round in the washing machine of sleep, whether we're dream teachers or something else. Here's another one. What can I do for the Big Society?

This question is at least puzzling. David Cameron says everyone in the UK needs English. And imagine the cost in terms of social integration, quality of life, and employability of people not having the means to learn it. How 'Big' would that be? But I'm redundant and we're all busy petitioning to save funding so all our students can have some lessons. Please see  http://www.gopetition.com/petition/41552.html if you haven't already.

The next part of the puzzle is that the Big Society is about charities and private organisations being able to bid to provide services rather than government (though I must say I'm disappointed that David Cameron hasn't taken up my idea of including the armed forces in this). But the whole thing is a Government initiative - 'Not Government' is ... the Government. I for one don't want anything I give freely to be branded as the Little Government's Big Society. I think I may have to volunteer to help David Cameron with his dreams, for example the one where suddenly people who don't pay UK taxes are running the Health Service, or the one where he's standing in a desert talking about democracy with arms dealers standing behind him. As well as my dream service (or perhaps as part of it) here are half a dozen other ideas that I soon hope to pester people with in a Big way.

A dechristmasification unit. This follows finding some brandy butter in the fridge. We come to your house and hoover up pine needles, find holly berries behind the TV etc, and nag you about clutter.
Big burial service. This follows discussion at a party where I was asked what the most ecologically positive kind of burial might be. Traditional burial takes up a lot of space and, as I understand it, it's many years before the body is contributing to the soil rather than taking nitrogen from it. Cremation of course requires fuel, and quite a lot of it. We decided therefore that sky burial was the answer. Obviously we would need to modify Tibetan practices a bit as the UK is short on big bare mountains and large raptors, but thanks Sally for raising this.
Pill-popping Puss. As Fruitcake the cat becomes more senior he needs more medicine, but have you ever tried getting pills into a cat? Forget wrapping him in a towel and bunging a tab down the howling gullet of a mummified gremlin. My device, based on the pea-shooter, is still in development, but rest assured that FMC Medipet is on the case.
Ear-a Orientation. This new course in our prospectus is there because I find a lot of the output on BBC 6Music sounds like 60s pop. Do I dislike 60s pop? Not at all. Some is quite earsome, but I clearly need help with auricular era orientation - and doubtless I'm not alone.
Competition-u-like. As all self-employed people know, the curse of modern business is not having enough competition. That's how you end up no better than a supermarket or a bus or train company. Just tell us what your business is and we'll set up near you  and do the same thing cheaper and in a Big friendly way. And did you know, the same offer is available to boring old public services? You don't pay a thing (though you will have to lay people off) because we get backing from huge imaginary organisations in the Cayman Islands via the Isle of Man.
Write-U-Right. Are you a glittering new Tory MP who went to all the trouble of copying and pasting a lecture on how we didn't need public trees, that Labour had cut them all down anyway, and besides, private ownership was A Good Thing - only to discover that your boss was simultaneously deciding that in this case it was Maybe Not Such A Good One? How to deal with life's U turns in a letter to constituents? Just change the subject, tell the boss you support funding for English for Speakers of Other Languages, and we'll do the rest.

Come back soon   FMC Dream Re-alignment - sensible dreams for sensible people

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Are you a dream teacher?

Jamie Oliver wants to know if I'm a dream teacher. If I am, I could win £10K. I know it's only an ad, but he really shouldn't ask me questions like that. Am I a teacher who only appears in dreams? Are my students entities that aspire to become dreams but lack the know-how? Are my students people whose sleep functions are defective and they need help to believe while unconscious that they have gone to work naked?

Because we all go to work naked, don't we? Teachers especially. But my students don't need a teacher who only turns up in reminiscences or the corridors of sleep. They need flesh and blood teachers with training and empathy in actual equipped classrooms (see http://www.actionforesol.org/). Perhaps Jamie's question is more insightful than I give it credit for though. Heaven preserve us from teachers who are 'dream' in a media-licious Strictly Come Learning way. But society certainly needs people who are able to help others find out where they want to go and who can motivate and assist them to overcome the hurdles. A pity then -  to put it mildly - that funding cuts in ESOL mean that for many people this is now becoming more a dream than a reality.

So perhaps you too are training to become a teacher, and have already encountered the idiot who knowingly recites "Those who can do, those that can't teach - and those that can't teach teach teachers," (and doubtless there's a branch of archaeology especially for crappy old sayings). Maybe you're midway though your PGCE and need some wise words from an old lag, hey Bradley? Here goes.

Education management is obsessed with looking sciency. It isn't science.  It's a spreadsheet. There is science to be found in education (e.g. the rightly esteemed National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy). Sadly, however, we seem a bit prone to taking some untested theory and applying it as the only viable option, perhaps for as long as the lifetime of a parliament. Bottom-up phonics as the true path to literacy, for example, Brain Gym, and fish oil for passing exams. Then there's the whole Multiple Intelligence/learner preference styles industry (and these things are industries). Demand, instead, to see evidence of properly conducted research demonstrating that Honey and Mumford (and that ilk) are better than well-marketed astrologers.

Mind you, when I was doing my PGCE we had to absorb BF Skinner, who made pigeons walk in figures of eight. My students can do better than that, though, before they even meet me. We had to learn all about stimulus-response strings. Naturally, I built a little instrument that delivers mild electric shocks. I use it today, though mostly on myself. I subsequently became an English language teacher who knew nothing about linguistics and couldn't speak another language. Luckily I had more training, which was excellent, and then found myself mute at a bus station in central Anatolia - which was even more instructive. Even later there was the Silent Way (I use bits of it now), Total Physical Response (still get my students out of their chairs), Suggestopedia (I still play music in class if people like it)  - and any number of baffling Grand Theories of Everything whose adherents practically wore robes. There are some bits in all of it, probably.

Latterly, for me at least, it's all been about old theories repackaged as ICT. Nothing wrong at all with having lots of kit, and hooray for the internet. You grew up with it all anyway, but, as you probably already know, there can be a riot while you're waiting for something to load. So, consider Socrates, who could do it all with a stick in the dust (mind you, his government did make him drink hemlock for corrupting the youth). The point is, though, it's more important to know where your students are at than which direction your Powerpoint animation shoots in from  - by a factor of 10 (Mm, sciency!), though I've had managers who would be hard to convince on that one.

At the same time, you don't need to be a gnarled old cynic - probably best not in fact - but a clear eye is good. Someone in my area once said something like "Question all orthodoxies, including the present ones," which is pretty much actual science (not to mention sociology and history), when you think of it. So, here are some other things I don't need to tell you - some of which I learnt rather later than I should have done.
  • Make a lesson plan (even if the form they want you to do it on is a pile of pants) - it's your plan
  • Your plan is just a plan, not a lesson, which may turn out very different 
  • A coherent sequence of varied and engaging activities towards shared objectives is a dream lesson (whether you turn up naked in it or not)
  • People do learn in different ways at different times (but there's a lot more to it than AVK)
  • That whole OTT merry-go-round of Ofsted-centric, audit-a-go-go schemes and records tends to obscure the central truth that it helps to plan and organise in a way that is informed by learners' needs. Too often, especially in FE colleges, it also gets mistaken for the actual learning and teaching
  • You'll have dreams that you're late for class. You'll have good dreams too.
  • Join a TUC-affiliated trade union so, should you need it, you can get expert representation
  • Put the vinegar on the chips first so you don't wash the salt off (still get that one wrong)
      Have fun

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Day of action for ESOL on Thursday

Look out for Thursday's national day of action for ESOL, when ESOL teachers, students and their supporters will be having lessons in public, taping their mouths shut, demonstrating, and generally acting up, to draw attention to the effects of cuts on this economically and culturally vital service. If you'd like to help, get or add ideas, or just find out, have a look at the Action for ESOL page on Facebook, at http://www.actionforesol.org/ and at  http://www.natecla,org/ . Sadly I won't be able to link hands with myself round Fruitcake Minature College, but I will be bombarding the increasingly imaginary Hardacre Collage and the blogosphere with sarcasm, scorn, and sensible suggestions, and also asking my glittering new Tory MP some awkward questions.

Also, coming very soon (maybe tomorrow): Alec Turer's words of wisdom for trainee teachers. Till then, here is a portrait of our leader during one of his days of inaction in the vicinity of some paperwork. It's the very same boxfile he refuses to share with Tony Blair on a point of principle. Sometimes it's all in the spelling.