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.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Big letters about forests football and foreigners

I don't suppose Friar Tuck is thinking about my students' EMA money or their English lessons, though he may be worried about Sherwood library. Nevertheless, after telling us us for weeks that selling the nation's forests was a splendid idea, the Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has actually said "we got this one wrong", so no doubt the Merry Men are celebrating with some serious quaffing round the bonfire right now.

It was only last week that that my glittering brand new Tory MP informed us in a letter that was as long as it was pompous how Government plans for the sale of woodland had been subject to bias and disinformation (though she didn't mention the Archbishop of Canterbury by name), and how private ownership of resources was a jolly good thing. And, she suggested, objection to flogging Piglet's house was only intellectually consistent if one also supported public ownership of water, electricity, public transport etc. In fact, I do. She said also that private enterprises worked better. But have you caught a train lately? If so, what kind of mortgage did you take out for the ticket, and have you arrived yet?

The Coalition are trying to get us to think of public ownership as Big Government, hence all the guff about the Big Society. It's true the last government went all cctvtastic and took liberties with civil liberties. That all felt a bit Big Brother and we don't want that either. Yet, public ownership is the Big Society. Will they end up saying they got that wrong too once it's obvious there's no money for it? Well, Tony Blair never admitted the Iraq war was wrong . All the same, isn't David Cameron on a bike going down hill shouting "Look no hands!" while the rest of us are going "Wow, no brakes"?

Oddly enough, I've had a few letters from David Cameron, so fair play to him - he'll obviously get his ideas from absolutely anywhere. Here are a few samples.

"Alec, how about privatising the armed forces? People could buy shares to invest in our brave lads."

Nice one Dave, intellectually consistent. The trouble is soldiers are losing their jobs at the moment because of the ... ahem ...cuts. Anyway, the Queen won't like it, though I suppose you could privatise the monarchy.

"What do you think of some sort of team game where people could come together for a bit of a singsong or watch it on simply huge TVs, or all get together in a park somewhere to learn about Big Team spirit and competition?"

No Dave, that's football. It's already privately owned by foreign billionaires, though don't tell the fans.

"I've come up with a sort of Big Spiritual idea. have like big places were people all promise to be nice, help the Big Society and maybe live for ever. We could have a posh brainy chap in fancy clothes, with a curly stick or something and a beard like Father Christmas and Dumbledore to head it all up"

I'm not sure you're getting the idea of 'idea' Dave. You've just invented the Archbishop of Canterbury - and he waggled his curly stick at the idea of selling off the woodlands, if you recall. And his boss is the Queen, strange though that may sound

"How about me and Cleggers disagree then, on something that isn't going to happen, such as changing the voting system? Then we can say "look, we're mates, right, but not identical twins or something."

Now you're talking (oh, so's Nick Clegg).

"Great, and all those foreigners that we can't exactly say we don't want  - what about making them learn Big English."

You (and the previous government) have taken the money away that's pays the teachers to teach the people who need to learn English. It's no good just sticking Big on things that are going to disappear anyway for lack of funding. It's no use trying to lay claim to to something you're laying waste.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Egypt - apologies due

This weekend is especially about Egypt, and other than congratulations, they don't need my tuppence-worth to help them on their way. However, there is one thing for us to think about here in the western democracies, and in the UK in particular: hypocrisy. Ours. It's been there for a very long time in our relations with Egypt, and for 30 years until very recently we have been decidely acquiescent towards Mubarak.

So once again, congratulations Egypt, but also sorry. It seems that our own much-vaunted democracy, press freedoms, trading partnerships, and affluent lifestyles depend on tolerating the denial of the same freedoms for others. To avoid rocking our comfy British boat, Labour and Conservative governments alike have supported regimes - Mubarak's not least among them - whose conduct flies in the face of our own supposed principles. Then we pretend to be appalled and, for instance, invade Iraq. The point is, we can sit in bed on Sunday reading the paper and go 'hurrah!" (and hurrah indeed), but do we really imagine that the people of Egypt don't see the hypocrisy of our actions over the last 30 years and more?

If you think I'm just sloshing cold water about, here is a quote about Mubarak's regime in Saturday's Guardian from Adaf Soueif, the author of the best-selling novel The Map of Love. Ms Soueif, by the way, writes in both Arabic and English and lives in Cairo and London. What she says is followed by a shameful piece of information.

"The regime [...] have facilitated the exploiting, the degrading of the country's institutions to serve the interests of a small clique against the interests of the nation as a whole. And to be able to do this, they have maligned and misrepresented the Egyptian people to each other and to the world. They have engaged in nothing less than the the destruction of the humanity of this country."

The shameful piece of information is the fact that Mubarak sometimes lends his palace in Sharm el-Sheik to Tony Blair.
Here, at the opposite end of some scale or other, is Fruitcake the cat's itinerary for yesterday morning:
05.00     Rise for accompanied light snack and a turn in the garden for saucers of rain water
07.00     Rise again from double duvet for somewhat heartier scoff and more rain water
10.00     Rise once more for a proper very high protein breakfast that would in truth appal
             adherents of most of the world's major religions.
10.15     Read the paper on people's knees. Retire to sleep in a boxfile of receipts till lunch.
13.00     Light lunch of munchy things. Retire to boxfile.

The humans here are of course complete suckers, but Fruitcake doesn't torture anyone or let Tony Blair sleep in his boxfile.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Carry on cutting, Dave mate

Dear Mr Cameron - or can I call you Dave, mate (see below)?

This complaining about the absolute ideological necessity of all these cuts at exactly this break-neck pace needs putting to bed, my old son. And lest it be said that these electric paragraphs have hitherto tended to have a bit of a go at you, here's some advice instead, all organised under proper headings and stuff, to balance things up a bit.

You've got to drop the present one, frankly. It sounds as if we're being told what's good for us by the Duke of Wellington's snotty little brother. Maybe pick up some tips from, you know, Tony Blair, yeah? Go a bit glottal. On second thoughts, maybe not. But you could go for a nice friendly Black Country one, or a mellow Lowland Scots. If that sounds a bit tough to do, try something nearer home such as London Turkish or red-top snapper Cockney. You need to get with the youth a bit more too, so say 'like' and 'though' a lot, rather than 'actually' and 'in point of fact' and that.

Cut the lot, because you really don't want to walk into one of those places by accident and then be shushed in mid flow by the middle classes. Heaven forbid you should ever be shushed by the middle classes.

Bankers' bonuses
Go careful here, Dave. You don't want to upset that lot. They do stuff we don't understand, so shu-up! You get me? Take their dosh away and they won't donate it to the Conservative Party. They'll also take their football to Hong Kong or somewhere.

Snowdrops? Daffodils? Bluebells? Sell the lot. Poor people can't afford them. Christopher Robin and the Children of the New Forest just need to grow up.

Fancy dress
Worth thinking about this one before you have to grab a sheet and put leaves on your head to call yourself Julius Caesar (beware the ides of March, by the way). For you, a posh butcher would probably be better, the kind in an almost scientific white coat who operated the bacon slicer in the old days. Ahh, the old days! As for George Gideon Oliver Osborne, there's nothing for it but a periwig and pantaloons.

Pur-lease! Lose the doppleganger. Stop freaking us out mate.

No, not a Mexican beer with a bit of lime in the neck. Have another go. That's it, sodding English lessons for people who managed to get under the wire when the last lot were in. Well, here's the thing. You need to stop all those arsey redundant English teachers blogging and stirring up opposition to your ideologically irrefutable programme of cuts. Give them their jobs back. Seriously. Then they won't have time to even get sarky, let alone do any social networking.

Carry on cutting ...
... the ground from under your feet.

Cheers then mate. All the best. Let us know if ever you want anyone to go round someone's hospital or school in a Big Society way and privatise them a bit.

Yours ever

Alec Turer,  FMC Holdings (educationary logistical solutions) plc

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

FMC visit the near future

"Nice uniform," I said to the freelance police officer guarding the former library, "Did you design it yourself?" "No need to get sarky ... sir," he growled, blushing all the same, "Got a permit, have you?" "Yes Deputy Sergeant Major, here it is, privately made by me this morning: a Fruitcake Miniature College authorisation to lead an educational visit to a site of historic interest."Mmm, doesn't seem to have anything to do with a local authority. This lot foreigners then?" "Yes, but from settled communities and they pay cash." "Middle class, are you sir?" "No no, self-employed!" "Oh alright then. You can go in. Mind your language in future though." Little did he know how profoundly paradoxical his warning was.

"If I need it I will learn it". This axiom was often used in connection with 'experiential approaches' to language learning, and the idea has popped it's head up many times over the years, sometimes labelled 'learning by doing.' Obviously it can only work if what you need is available, that is, if it's possible to go and do it. This can take some engineering. So, you could be a child recently arrived in the UK, for instance, and your parents could engineer it that you get no dinner unless you ask for it in English. This doesn't quite work of course if it's your parents who need the English more than you do, but you see what I mean. Another way of doing things would be to have what we might call 'departments' in what I will term 'colleges' where trained 'professionals' set things up so that you experience English in meaningful and engaging ways and thus learn it. You will have spotted the problem there, though, straight away: no mention of 'volunteers' or 'Big Society'. We may have to update 'learn by doing' to 'sink or swim' (but no translation as this only encourages them).

Bearing all this in mind, and because of the regrettable necessity of axing my students' classes and making me redundant, I founded Fruitcake Miniature College. Since September, under the leadership of our principal, whose picture is at the top of the page, we have opened the floodgates to almost literally five people. And following the 85% success rate of the trip last term to the more distant future, this term's project is to experience the future from nearer at hand. We made it to 2014 and back with relatively little damage to the paintwork of the coach and may be able to use that company again. (Stans Van's - your hen night at the speed of light).

The trip to the library in the opening paragraph was predictably disappointing. It was very echoey and there was a big sign on one wall just saying "Google it." On the opposite wall was one saying "Go on Amazon". Naturally no-one's finished an actual report yet either, but we're very pleased with the work so far, and here is a small selection of observations.

  • Rio Tinto Zinc are getting iron and coal from the Forest of Dean much faster now the trees don't get in the way
  • The medals handed out at the Olympics were chocolate
  • The CEO of the National Health Service received a whopping bonus this year, but that's actually OK in the US
  • snowdrops are down 50p against the euro
  • Traffic wardens can now impose on-the-spot fines for farting.
  • 'Middle class' now means anyone who can articulate or co-ordinate opposition to Government policy - also, confusingly, anyone neither very poor nor very rich.
  • Society is as big as ever it was but the Government has become almost undetectable with the naked eye
  • Michael Gove's successor as Education Secretary has conceded that lack of ESOL provision has had consequences for integration and for the economy and has come up with a novel proposal for providing it in special 'colleges'
  • There will soon be a General Election
  • The future you go to depends on the bus you catch there.
On reflection we may try another company for our next trip. And do try and finish your assignments soon.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

TFI it's the weekend

Friday night
Fruitcake the cat is watching the rugby on the sofa. He's the Principal of Fruitcake Miniature College and thus my employer. So, thank fruitcake it's Friday night. Now I can stop pretending to work and acknowledge that the Welsh are better than the English when it comes to singing, and also that Delilah is a better song than God Save the Queen. All the same, I think England are going to beat Wales. Sorry Pete, sorry Ieuan, and I hope my apology is sufficiently integrationist for David Cameron's liking.

Saturday morning
Today David Cameron treated Muslims to a patronising finger-wagging about accepting British values. I find this quite interesting from the leader of a party that is constantly on about the 'Nanny state.' Nanny is clearly still a folk memory for Conservatives of a certain class, and they are not over her yet, but if the state shouldn't be telling people what their values are, then surely a Conservative Prime Minister shouldn't be lecturing Muslims about just that. He asks if Muslim groups 'believe in human rights including for women and people of other faiths'. I think we could ask the same question of quite a few other other groups in the UK, such as Ulster Unionists, or in golf clubs up and down the land. don't you? He also asks if 'they encourage integration or separation.' Splendid question Prime Minister! I'd like to ask the same of the Bullingden Club or any board of directors at random. It was actually a tad tactless of you, though, to ask this on the day the English Defence League marched in Luton. But I expect everyone at the Dog and Whistle knew you were harkening to their own brand of 'muscular liberalism'.

And while we're on the subject, Mr Cameron, of getting people to integrate, how about better funding for English lessons for adults who need them? I'm sorry to say that your answer to this one at Prime Minister's Question time recently came across somewhat weasily and ill-informed. 

A little later
Fruitcake the cat turned the telly on a little while ago. He's rather deaf so it was suddenly quite noisy, and it took me by surprise - because, how many principals of colleges do you know that are into baking programmes? The Head of Animal Care came to investigate the kerfuffle, and found the remote on the sofa underneath Fruitcake. My personal suspicion is that it wasn't so much the baking he was interested in as the nice lady who does the programme. Of greater political importance, however, is learning that Malawi's pollution laws may mean that it becomes an offence in law to fart in public. You wonder how they would police and enforce that one.

A proper Sunday, the cat's just gone to the pub for a snifter (various saucers and buckets etc out the back) and I notice that our modest back garden now boasts four snowdrops, which means that until more come out they are worth five quid each. They'll be a snip though if all 100 of the bulbs I got for twenty quid come up. Less charmingly, I see Labour claim that cuts to police forces will mean 10,000 fewer police officers. The Government say it is dishonest, disgraceful etc of them to claim this, but don't actually deny it.  So there will certainly be significantly fewer police officers. Let's hope for the sake of those remaining that the Government don't follow Malawi's lead and make farting illegal. Though here's something worth considering: how about privatising snowdrops  - oh, yes, selling the forests does that already. What about privatising the police then? There must be at least one glittery-eyed creature in a think tank hoping for preferment who would think it was a good idea.

So, nearly dinner, and that was the weekend. If I still had a job I'd be getting creeping dread about now about going to college tomorrow. As it is, I haven't even polished my shoes. Come back next week, which I trust will be in employment and free from dread. Maybe stay away from beans until we've had reassurances on proposed new legislation .

Friday, 4 February 2011

Lunchtime at Fruitcake Minature College

"What are you having for lunch, big boy?" she said as she let down the window a little and turned off the engine of her natty little Clio. Clearly a lady who liked a man in work clothes. "You, apparently," I quipped. The fact that she then cracked up, that this was Mrs Turer, and I was lopping our front hedge, admittedly takes some of the suggestiveness out of this scenario. All the same, you can see there are some advantages to redundancy. I gather some others still in employment enjoy such advantages anyway, but my former colleagues and I were always much to busy hand-carving individual learning plans and the like to pay any attention to gossip. Lunch was a multi-task mess of crumbs and paper on our desks as we got ready for our afternoon class, and certainly not leek pie, goat's cheese and an artisan loaf in a relaxed atmosphere rich with double entendre.

Food was sometimes a distraction, though, albeit a hectic one. At Eid, Christmas, people's birthdays, or the drop of a kapelusz, our students produced samosas, Chinese dumplings, flat bread, croissants, octopus, sticky rice in seaweed, tortillas, and those Polish marshmallows coated in chocolate - or even better, chocolate plums. Our end of term parties were legendary, and if you weren't from our team, you had to be someone nice and friendly to get in - such as from the library or the International Centre, where they helped our students rather than baffled them in a shouty way through a piece of plate glass.

We were often the first helpful people they had run across since leaving their own countries. Muna, who had seen terrible things in Somalia, was now living with her little daughter in a high-rise and needed help understanding the bits of paper from the council. Farshad had arrived in the back of a lorry from Afghanistan. He was the class clown. He had scars and a bad leg, and nightmares about "the Talib people." In court he told the judge, in English, that rather than be sent back, he would say thank you now for the help he had had, and the court should kill him there and then, because he would die every minute in Afghanistan. The last I had heard, Farshad had lost his case. Then there were the Polish kids, with all their scrapes and emotional hoo-hahs, who had left their schools in Poland in year 10 arriving in the UK just in time to gear up for GCSEs, which of course they mostly didn't get. They were fiercely loyal to one another - and to us, in a chaotic teenage way.

Yet, these people are putting more into our economy than they are taking out, please note. Those Polish kids, for example, served your coffee or your burger. They're  picking orders in monster depots you don't know exist. Their mum or dad drove your bus this morning, or laid your carpet. They pay taxes. Give these people some English lessons. And don't give me, Michael Gove, stuff about targeted provision and such like smokescreens. Funding's gone and going, and my students and the UK economy deserve better.

This is what I was thinking about up a ladder before lunch. Superficially, I may have looked employed (loppers, warm checked shirt, dusty khaki trousers and shoes), but I'm sleeping with the lady of the house. And if you've been to these electric paragraphs before, you may know I'm now employed here by Fruitcake Miniature College, whose Principal is our cat. It's probably just what David Cameron and his cabinet have in mind; I'm the private sector stepping in. No I'm not. This is a fantasy in more ways than one (even though I do have some students preparing for an EFL exam). These people need lessons in a proper college funded in such a way that even the shouty people behind plate glass can't complain.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Action for ESOL

Hope you enjoyed yesterday's real-world pun.  Just in case you've never been to these electric paragraphs before, I used to teach English to speakers of other languages until a nasty combination of bad economic weather, political expediency, and managerial talent meant that some hundreds of ESOL learners and a dozen of their teachers at Hardacre Collage just aren't there any more. I checked yesterday.

The problem is the Government, isn't it? Libraries, ESOL classes, respite for carers, forests etc are all disappearing because the Con-Dems hate the idea of the state providing or protecting anything - and the economy has presented a good excuse for a bonfire. Well actually, you're right, but that's not the whole story. Before the General Election we were already teaching in an environment of audit fever. Caught between Ofsted, the funding bodies, and our own institutions' joyously disfunctional data-management systems, we were so busy making lesson plans that proved we were taking full account of individual learners via sufficient CPD in IT towards shared SMART objectives - we barely had time to get into class. If that was you, did you ever get the feeling that someone or something hated you? Who or what was it, and why are they still there, thriving in the darkness of the current ignorance? I'm almost embarrassed to say that the answer is - partly - a graph.

Let an x axis = progress, and let a y axis = time. Draw a straight line where they intersect, at any angle to y you may choose (45 degrees is dandy), for ever. This is now your model for everything. Assuming for a moment that your progress can be accurately measured, it must now not fall below this line. Otherwise you have failed. Looks like science, doesn't it? Welcome to the world of 'satisfactory is unsatisfactory', where only results above benchmark matter even if we're all in the stratosphere gasping for oxygen, and where everyone starts 'gaming the figures' (fiddling it). No-one learns like this and nothing grows like this, and apart from proper science, the only answer to this part of the problem is ridicule. A much more accurate diagram for learning and progress is the picture on the page at http://mindofsjb.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/joan-miro-the-garden/

The answer is also partly that English culture (yes I do), among many wonderful things, has also inadvertently bred a thing that dislikes you. It's because you are a liberal individual who thinks it is enriching all round and economically sensible to help people acquire the English they need. The thing is very old, it doesn't like foreigners, it doesn't believe in anything it can't kick down the street, let alone teachers, or ideas. It has the ear of Government, who are afraid of it.

The only way to defeat it is bright light as provided by reason, research, debate - and well-aimed ridicule. Follow the Action for ESOL campaign via Facebook and Twitter. And return soon to these electric paragraphs, where the curve is sometimes curly.
Prepared in an environment that cannot be guaranteed nut-free. May contain puns.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The first of the month and no returns

A pinch and a punch and the first of the month and no returns.

Yesterday was strange because it was my last official day as an employee at Hardacre Collage. Arguably it was even stranger in that I wasn't there and hadn't been since April. From then till yesterday was a period called 'garden leave'. In fact even if I hadn't been on garden leave, I wouldn't have been there because I had an abscess on a wisdom tooth. This is not interesting or pleasant of itself, but there was a cosmic pun as a booby prize. Maybe the universe organises itself sometimes to occasion feeble jokes, though I doubt it. Anyway the tooth came out - at 2.30.

Today, by some sort of contrast, I went north in a straight line up the A666 in an ironed shirt and proper shoes towards Hardacre Collage. Just like the old days - except that it was 10.30 and I planned to be home again by lunchtime. I was also carrying a folder with a form in it. A boring form. The very last boring form. 

There it all was, hardly changed. Rogers Pets sadly now has an apostrophe, which means the words above his shop mean the pets are his, not that he has carnal relations with them. The opticians, though, still advertises its 'full domiciliary service' for those with dictionaries who need eye tests at home. There may be cuts, but it's good to see people still splashing out on syllables. The phone box a little further on looks more broken and held together by red paint than ever, but it still offers - improbably but wonderfully - email and text. I've never tried it, but I guess it's one of those unassuming portals to other worlds. If you can get the door open, you will no doubt find you are actually in the internet rather than just on it. And of course there was the spot where my stalker, van man, copped it.

On the walk back again, minus my form and plus my final payment, I had a lot to think about. Everyone had been as friendly and talkative as ever, and could well imagine I was sleeping better despite the uncertainty. Those not constrained by an official capacity all said the same thing, which for fear of litigation - despite Hardacre Collage being imaginary - I will not repeat. Dave from Repro summed something up repeatably though, with reference to those charged with and handsomely remunerated for 'leadership' of the collage. "It's all gone now - and they never knew they had it in the first place." Team spirit, of course, fellow feeling if you prefer.

The Lagoon Fish Bar? A cracked window but obviously busy. The betting shop? No change Piece-a Pizza? Evidently gone bust (the fish shop next door does pizza anyway). The charity shop? Still offering other people's shoes. The Indian place? As shut looking as it was from the beginning. The coin-in-the-slot sunbed place? Still taking your coins if you want skin cancer. Toni's Barbering? Only Toni there, on the phone. Reptiles To Go? Hard to tell - you could never see in anyway. And then I was at the roundabout and the overpass, thinking about what Dave had said.

On the other side is a big sycamore. The bird's nest was still there, though not occupied yet. I remember when it was - by a crow. She sat there one spring, day after day, in wind, rain and sun. Passing underneath in the mornings, I always wanted to take her a cup of tea.

So anyway, that was my glittering career in Further Education. Let's see what spring brings. By the way, it's clearly too late to save my job, but you could sign a petition to get my students some lessons. Go to
http://www.gopetition.com/petition/41552.html       Many thanks, come back soon.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Dear Alec - the doctor advises

Of course, I'm not a proper doctor, only in the 'Dr' Gillian McKeith 'holistic nutritionist' sense, but it's all on the internet anyway, so what the hell.

Dear Dr Alec, what's all this with the economy and that? I mean, why's it gone all crap all of a sudden with pints mostly more than £3, 20% VAT, students getting arsey and stuff? Is it right the snow was to blame, or Labour, or the bankers or something? I can't make sense of it, but you seem like a sensible bloke. What do you reckon?  A P, Keynsham, England

Well, A, I'm not a proper economist either, but I can remember the old days. It's gone crap because for years we were seduced into believing that we wanted  - and the economy demanded  - enormous brightly lit spaces stuffed to the gunwhales with food from all over the world. We got used to roaming these places dressed to the nines and ringing our partners on our smartphones to check what we were there for in the first place. Then we would put it all in our shiny vehicle which we pretended the bank didn't own and returned to a house to which the same applied. It wasn't sustainable. So, no it wasn't the snow. It wasn't Labour either, except that they were in it too. Was it the bankers? Yes partly it was. They like us waving our various credit cards about. Really though it was just us being greedy.

Hi Doc! Is it true that the famously unapologetic boss at Barclay's bank is called Bob Diamond, or is that the name of a cartoon villain with too much bling? Please settle this for me and my pals once and for all. Ms V McC, Aberdeen, Scotland.

Hi V. You couldn't make it up, could you? He really is Diamond. He really thinks the banks have nothing to apologise for too. I don't know if he sports much bling. A Swiss watch from Davos maybe.

Dear Dr Turer (may I call you 'Dr'?), how could I become more British in my consumption of non-alcoholic beverages. Since that magnificent display in the Ashes series, I would like to tap into my roots. Mr T E, Adelaide, Australia

By all means call me Dr, Mr. In truth, there's more than one regime. The easiest and most down-with-the-proletariat is to drink (fairtrade) teabag steeped at least four minutes, with milk and sugar to taste, at all times of day. The regime followed at Turer Towers is a little more elaborate, but you could build towards it gradually. On rising drink two cups of leaf Assam, made in a proper teapot, with a little skimmed milk and no sugar. At eleven, drink one cup of freshly ground Java coffee made in one of those screw-down Italian pots you put on the stove. After lunch drink one more of the same. At four o'clock (no earlier), as the fog comes down (or it rains if it's summer) make a pot of China tea such as Oolong. Drink without milk or sugar. Bear in mind too that these rituals vary from region to region and take a lifetime of study. Awfully bad luck over the Ashes, by the way, but quite well done over the less important one-day series. Tootlepip.

Dear Alec, what's the difference between the Control Orders that the Lib Dems swore to abolish and the new TPIMs? Ms N B, Aberystwyth, Wales

Dear N. Search me.

Dear Alec, My girlfriend wants me to rub her all over with coconut oil but I fear this is not sanctioned in the Bible. Could you advise? Mr Z D, Tucson, Arizona, USA

Dear Z, I fear you may have strayed into the wrong forum, as I don't usually advise on spiritual matters. However, I have scoured both Old and New Testaments, and good news! I can find absolutely nothing whatever that forbids rubbing coconut oil into another person. I say therefore, go blamelessly to it. I would only add that it would be a good idea for several reasons to gently warm the coconut oil. Also, as it's likely to go everywhere, it would also be a sensible precaution to remove your own clothing too.

Dear Alec, what is the cure? Anon, Erewhon

Dear Anon, to heal the heart. Return soon for another teaspoon of wisdom.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

How to survive redundancy and enjoy it

To start with, don't take my advice. You'll soon see what I mean.
  1. On Tuesday morning before ten (or Wednesday if you've left it a bit late), have a look in the mirror, then have a shave and a shower. Maybe put clothes on, over your pyjamas if need be
  2. Facebook and Twitter are not actual jobs, even if Stephen Fry makes the latter seem almost as if it could be, and even if the people you're chatting to are former or precariously current employees of Hardacre Subsidiaries
  3. Create a miniature version of your former workplace, dividing its various functions among the household, and make Fruitcake the cat chief executive, and marvel at the parallels that emerge 
  4. Give yourself reasons to get out of the house - for example your partner suggests you go and get a vegetable while she gets on with some work
  5. If you go out to post some of your schemes for world domination (and also to get a little exercise, and a vegetable), remember to take the letters with you, particularly if you have already told yourself what kind of fool might forget 
  6. If you see bicycle man quite by chance, as ever coming northwards up the A666 all hot and yellow, give him a wave and hope that it being just after lunch doesn't mean he's lost his job too
  7. Remember you can spend a whole morning waiting to see if there's a wren in the hedge, and you can spend all day making a curry out of the vegetable you got yesterday (cauliflower, aubergine, and pea and potato are the current top three)
  8. When you walk through the storm, hold your head up high, and don't be afraid of the dark - even if Liverpool FC are having a hard time
  9. Bear in mind that David Cameron's cabinet were born knowing precisely how it is we should be standing on our own two feet, and how to make damn sure that's what we do, and they were reminded of this fact all through their privileged education. This qualifies them absolutely to tell you what must be done in that oily patronising manner that is so effortlessly right in so many ways. So, try not to spend too much time listening to the news
  10. Bear in mind too that your former employers may be from a similar mould but as miniature versions
  11. Try to relax about money. One day there will be a knock at the door (or an email) from someone who was very impressed with one of the schemes for world domination that you had forgotten you had even posted
Breaking news (sorry, this bit should scroll across your screen): Some work may just have come in. Half a day is better than no organic wholemeal.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Cheers then bicycle man

On the walk to my former employment at Hardacre Collage, the spelling mistake where I taught ESOL, there were many adventures over twenty years. For instance I had a stalker in a van, whose peskiness ended with such a satisfying crunch, as you can see in the last two posts. Saying hello to bicycle man was less spectacular, but it was very British, and even heart-warming. Bicycle man was the very opposite of van man.

I don't know when I first saw him. Eventually he was always there, as I was too probably. I would be walking north wearing a blue hooded jacket in the winter, a jacket and tie in warmer months, and just a shirt and tie if it was hot. Naturally there would be trousers and so forth. I always had a bag, mostly with my lunch in it and the sort of anxieties teachers always carry disguised as books and a diary. Bicycle man would of course be on a bicycle, coming south towards me. In winter he wore yellow waterproofs and looked hot, especially if he was cycling standing up. In warmer months he wore lycra and looked hot. But it was cheery hot, not angry hot. He and I would cross paths anywhere on the twenty-five-minute walk between the shops at the top of my road to the big gloomy metallic buildings that acccidentally comprise the physical structure of Hardacre Collage. Where we crossed paths exactly depended on whether it was nearer ten to eight or twenty past, and on how each of us was going for time, and maybe on the phases of the moon.

The British part in all this was how long it took to get to a conversational exchange. At some point I must have gone "Here comes bicycle man," just as he must have gone "Here comes walking man." This phase certainly lasted many months and possibly took years. Phase two was transitional: not ignoring became faint smile  - a delicate stage this, especially in bad weather or heavy traffic. Once we got to nodding, the dam burst and the first word in all our many conversations was exchanged. "Morning." Notice no exclamation mark yet. That followed later. Then we were away, with full-blown waving, thumbs up, the works. As night follows day, there came the second word. "Alright?" There is no answer to that question especially passing at a combined speed, I estimate, of at least twelve miles an hour.  So there we were, in a two-word matehood:

Perhaps, sometime in July he said to himself "Where's walking man?" He may have then gone "Ah-ha, summer holidays - happened last year." At the end of August he may have gone "'Expect I'll see walking man soon."

Dear bicycle man, sorry to disappoint. And before you ask, no, I haven't retired.  It was the cuts - funding, that kind of thing. Yes, very true. Bastards! At the moment? Oh, you know, this and that. How are things with you and wherever it is you cycle to?  Oh well, hang on in there. There's a lot of it about.

And here they are, words three and four: "Cheers then!"

Friday, 21 January 2011

Walking to work 2 Bicycle man

If you were here for the previous post you will recall we had arrived at the denoument in the tale of the stalker on the walk to work.  Our hero (that is, myself) was being bellowed at from a van on a regular basis. Although I displayed remarkable nonchalance in ignoring this hairy overweight lunatic, it had been going on for eighteen months and had gone past boring.

I had just passed a zebra crossing and was going north up the pavement on the right-hand side of the road with the traffic coming towards me (we're in the UK here). Now you might think the other side of the road would have been better, but the side I was on at least meant that the driver would have to shout across the passenger seat at me instead of directly out of his window. And on this occasion he did have a passenger, for whom I came to have some sympathy.

The road was narrower at the crossing than further up, and not far beyond it a bus lane merged with the centre lane. I spotted the white van just as the passenger wound down the window, presumably under instructions. Van man leant across him, one hand still on the wheel, thus swinging into the bus lane, and began to roar with malevolent glee. Several things then happened at once. Tyres squealed and there was the smell of hot brake pads. There was a taxi, suddenly, on the bus lane, almost between me and the van. There was terror on the face of van man's passenger as he stared at what it meant to become a nasty sandwich filling. There was also a bang and a tooth-curling screech of metal on metal. Van man and I found ourselves eye to bulging eye across the chaos for a moment, before he accelerated away.

About ten minutes later, having perhaps enough brain to realise I had his registration number by heart, van man drove slowly back. He pulled up opposite the taxi where I too now sat in the cab. The taxi driver and I turned our heads. It was cinematic. It was bliss. Van man did a futile pantomime at the wheel of grief and supplication specially for me. The taxi driver and I got out of the cab -  he to cross the road, I to carry on exultant up the pavement.

The police were very pleased to get such a detailed report. The taxi driver and his insurers were similarly grateful. I have no idea what van man's passenger said. I have no idea what the court said. But I know that at the very least van man's insurance premium will still be stinging.

You could see karma in it all, you could just see being an arse. I promised you would meet bicycle man, though, the opposite of van man. There he goes! Hello bicycle man. Come back soon.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Walking to work 1 Stalker

January mid morning somewhere in England - but sunshine instead of grey. Birds who can't quite believe it have started to sing, and I'm walking towards a cup of coffee down the A666 instead of up it to Hardacre Collage, which is the spelling mistake I became redundant from last summer. Inevitably, as I walk,  I recall adventures I had between 7.50 and 8.20 a.m. over twenty years of going in the opposite direction.

It's a dead straight line to the college out of terraced housing with shops into modern industrial brick, steel, and roundabouts. The walk took twenty-five minutes, and it became so automatic that sometimes I would find myself threading my way through the knots of smokers on the lovely college tarmac wondering how I had got  there. For a drab journey with a stressful conclusion, it was not unpleasant though - until I encountered my stalker.

He nearly ran me over one day in his plain white Citroen Berlingo van as I crossed a side street  This was rare and hilarious entertainment for him and his mate, which unfortunately I added to as I swore and waved two fingers. From then on, every time he saw me, he would slow up, wind down the window and shout, before speeding off laughing hysterically. My strategy was to ignore him completely, which took some doing, because he kept it up for eighteen months off and on, and any white white van coming towards me made me twitch. I could clock his registration without turning my head. Wasn't there another route to work? Not really. Catch a bus then? It was quicker and cheaper to walk - anyway, bugger it, I wanted to walk. Why didn't I go to the police then? Well, I did, and it stopped for a while until he turned up in an identical white Berlingo with a different registration. 

You never quite knew where on the road he would be, and what he shouted changed over the months. It was "Yah!" to start with, bellowed long and loud. After some months of nil response it became "Hello Billy." On one occasion he waited on a side road completely hidden by a newspaper that quaked, I suppose, with suppressed delirium. On another occasion he stopped and shouted "I love you Billy!" Where did he get the energy at that time of day? Was he still drunk or high from the night before, or just a hyper-active bully?

I never found out, and before he got his just desserts I just plodded on planning lessons in my head, pondering notions like karma, and fantasising colourful retributions. How did van man finally get his come-uppance then? He was waylaid up a side road and remorselessly thumped with dictionaries by ESOL teachers? Sadly - no. The other basses in your choir ambushed him on motorbikes, and intoning Come On Baby Light My Fire, made him strip naked and set fire to his own clothes? Of course not - but nice. You acquired a catapault and put a marble through his windscreen causing him to crash and burst into flames? No, no flames at all. OK, you went boringly to the police again who had another word. No, noisier and more rewarding than that.

My goodness, it's gone coffee time! I've got a CV to polish, contacts to tug, work to beg! Come back soon to learn how van man gets it. Also, meet bicycle man, the opposite of van man.

Monday, 17 January 2011

the time and space train of our lives

I am a time traveller, like you. Our mode of time travel is a train called the present which goes in just one direction and, practically speaking, only stops once. All the same, I've been travelling this way for fifty-odd years, and right now you are in the same carriage. I don't know when you got on, but that's usually what happens; looking out of the window listening to your MP3 player of choice, you happen to turn your head and there in front of you is another passenger. You might talk, you might not. If you're unlucky the other person wants to talk about how precisely  Liverpool managed a 2:2 draw with Everton, or about how David Cameron has no choice but to make the people of Britain hurt a lot. If you're lucky though, the passenger opposite is an experienced time traveller.

Now, I know you may be thinking it was just as well for Kenny Dalglish that Liverpool drew, but actually more interesting is just how long this train is. Also, all your living relatives are on board, if not in this carriage then in others behind or in front. Obviously all your dead ones have got off at their station, perhaps unexpectedly or even forcibly. Some people claim the dead can be contacted by mobile or on Skype, or something akin, but as you know, mobile coverage isn't great on Exmoor, so I suspect it's nonexistent in the Valley of Death, whatever Orange or the Archbishop of Canterbury may say. I'm afraid this means that my observations are more reliable than a ouija board - or indeed, dare I say it, than Holy Writ.

The other thing is just how fast this train goes. For instance, many passengers remember when this train was pulled by steam. Now we're burning the ghosts of primordial trees, which is much more advanced, but actually no faster. And if now doesn't feel particularly fast in any case, I'm reliably informed that it will come as a surprise when they announce your station. Another thing that happened only a moment ago was the IT and telecoms we mentioned earlier. You may already live your life entirely via Facebook and Twitter, but many of us are still texting 'are you coming good'' instead of 'are you coming home'. This is not surprising as only a short distance back down the track a phone was something attached to a wall in a building. You made it ring from a distance to see if anyone was going past. Sometimes you had to enter a box like the Tardis to do this. Unlike the Tardis (I assume) it smelt of wee, and as I discovered when I tried to sleep in one in the vicinity of Carmarthen, there were fleas. The only alternatives were to send a piece of paper you had written on, or to send a photocopy of some writing by phone to a printer the size of a breeze block. You needed a similar breeze block your end for this.

Advice? You want advice on travelling on the time and space train! OK, but I don't know any more than you do. I think it's a good idea to look out of the window a) to enjoy the landscape, b) so you have some idea of where you're going. At the same time it's well worth listening to your fellow passengers and befriending them as much as possible. But don't give people credit for knowing things you don't just because they have a big beard and/or funny clothes, or they're in the government. Other than that, I suppose it's eat plenty of fruit and veg and climb trees or go skate-boarding or play football or somesuch, where possible. Another very important thing is right there in the MP3 player of your choice, or on the fold-down table in front of you: music, books, art. Oh, and flowers and birds and stuff. You may also find, sooner or later in the journey, that you have to invest in haemorrhoid cream.

As for what powers it all, now you're really asking. I don't really know, but I suspect it may be music. Next we'll be into 'What happens when the driver gets to their own station?' and 'Are we going to make our connection?' Again, I don't know. But what about you? Would you agree that Led Zepplin are the finest rock band there has ever been?

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Jimi Hendrix Dizzee Rascal mash up - or bring back 'far out'

I'm thinking of becoming a hippy again, because being redundant is in some ways a bit like it was back then. In those days I didn't really want to work, whereas now at least I want to earn some dosh, but here I am all the same in the front room at nearly midday listening to Jimi Hendrix . We had a Conservative prime minister then, Edward Heath, whose fight with the unions led to the three-day-week. Now, we've got another one, even if he is propped up by the Liberal Democrats (who didn't exist until 1988). It gets weirder. Back then grandad vests were popular - and today my ensemble includes a grandad vest.

There are of course some important differences. Hair is an obvious one. Now, frankly, the skinhead look would be easier (though way the wrong message), and it's going to be tough to reproduce the classic embellished-afghan-hound look. Also, back then I had more than 30 years of teaching English language in front of me, and I only thought I knew what a verb was (and if, by the way, you are going to say it's  'a doing word', then what about 'being'? Which brings us right back to the hippies). Back then we did talk a lot - or 'rap' as we called it - about ley lines, macrobiotics, the significance of the comet Kahoutek, the Zodiac, reincarnation and so on and so on. No doubt people still talk stoned nonsense, but I wouldn't know where to get the drugs now. This may be the biggest impediment to being a hippy again: it will have to be without drugs. They would just make me cough, and set my asthma off.

Imagine me down in a certain part of town in the January rain, in my waterproof hooded walking jacket, my skull ring, and my corduroy peaked cap, trying to recall the lingo and possibly update it a bit. "Excuse me, man. Have you got any charge, by any chance? You know - shit, like red leb and that? It's cool, incidentally, I'm not fuzz." The youngster on the corner with a mobile would probably confidently agree with me about one thing though. I isn't police.

How young people speak has changed, but I'll bet they don't like oldies trying to copy them any more than we did, and the media style pundits are still on about them supposedly debasing the English language. There's nothing like ill-informed ridicule for keeping the young in their place. In our case, what we thought of as our own language was just standard English with a light dressing of black American slang, but it was hugely derided as degenerate by 'straights.' In fact, it was the straights that called us 'hippies'. We called ourselves 'heads,' or 'freaks.' As some do today, we called each other 'man,' sometimes 'brother' or  'sister' as applicable, though you had to be fairly committed for that one. Also, as today, we used 'cool', but slightly differently. "That's cool," meant "that's acceptable," rather than "that's great, neat, brill, or mint." Similarly, a cool person was one unlikely to attract unwanted attention to themselves and thus get into a hassle with the fuzz. One of ours that is still current, and was British in origin, was 'to suss something/someone out,' meaning 'to work something out, to deduce it, or come to understand a person's motives.'

My favourite though - also British I think -  has disappeared, which is a bummer. It was 'far out'. This was used adjectivally (attributively and predicatively), and as an exclamatory adjective sentence to express enthusiasm: "This is far out blow!" "The Pink Fairies are far out, man!" (remember them, playing outside the festival, on a flatbed lorry?), and just "Wow, far out!"  I can't do the hair. I don't want to do the drugs. But I'm still into (there's another one) Hendrix, and I think we should start a campaign to bring back 'far out.'

"And so castles made of sand fall in the sea, eventually." (Jimi Hendrix, Castles Made of Sand, Axis: Bold as Love, 1967)
 "Yeah my attitude's mingin, but I don't really give a friggin rasclar." (Dizzee Rascal,  Money Money, Tongue N Cheek, 2009)

"That Dizzee Hendrix is far out though." (Alec Turer, Castles Made of Money, Tongue N Groove, 2011)

Monday, 10 January 2011

A lack of principles in modern politics

As the Director of Finance held hands with the Principal and snuggled up to Estates Management for the senior management team meeting, she remarked what a grey and dismal start to the week it was. Who knows whether the Prinicipal thought so too, he's much too Zen, and in any case he's a cat. I agreed though, not just because I am married to the Director of Finance (and thus among others, the Head of Animal Care and the Multi-Faith-and-none Chaplain), but also because there it was outside the bedroom window - greyitude and dismalocity.

Fruitcake Miniature College SMT sipped their assam tea. Eight o'clock but still in bed. Still, the day had been mapped out, reponsibilities apportioned, and the approach to tomorrow's meeting with the financial advisor (a real person, probably with pictures of his first child's first Christmas on his iPhone) had been agreed: we're going to cash in all the pension and everything the teaching staff have got while we seek to redeploy him. The trouble is, it's that time of year - January - and that much vaunted gold-plating on public sector pensions only applies much higher up the scale, where thank goodness they've still got their jobs.

Being January, what green shoots there may be are buffeted by the wind. At the same time, this is a good time for pruning, though you can take analogies too far. So it was, I found myself, along with a temporary Estates assistant still home from Christmas, trundling a barrow of vegetable peelings and a ladder towards the allotment. Analogies notwithstanding, the padlock was stiff, but the compost bins were active so there was room for all that Merry Xmas vegetable matter and a neighbour's rabbit's bedding. A robin sang on the bramble patch at the back of the plots, and there were still bird-pecked apples on the tree we had come to prune. The tree was pruned of one big branch and a few smaller ones but there were still plenty of frosted apples left after, (that really is enough analogy). and a pair of bluetits took advantage as soon as we had finished.

The hard work is making the prunings into stacks of logs, sticks and twigs, and in the process I quizzed the temporary Estates assistant on the possibility of the current furore over tuition fees energising young people into political activity, perhaps alongside trade unions. Because, why saddle the young with debt, potentially for much of their working lives before they even think about buying a house (or paying rent for that matter) - unless there's a hidden agenda of social control perhaps? The answer was interesting and the stacks of prunings grew. My assistant's solution was for everyone to refuse en masse to go to university until Parliament came up with a better idea than the present one. The difficulty there, though, is that there is no organisation engaged and committed enough to organise it. Not the National Union of Students? No, their practical support for recent protest has been rubbish. They are mostly all pragmatists who want top jobs, maybe in politics and it doesn't much matter which party. They certainly don't want smashing a bank window on their CV, because like the politicians they aspire to follow, they have ambition but no principals. In short, the young are thoroughly disenchanted with all their representatives while being disproportionatey effected by the current cuts. This state of affairs arises from a lack of any principles in modern politics. And is this a little dangerous? Yes, it is.

So, there we were at the start of the year stacking firewood for next winter, with greyitude and dismalocity all about us. But we had got it done before it started raining, so perhaps the embargo on analogy can be lifted just this once more.

PS green shoots in sport: Australia all out for 97 runs.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

30% off at January sales

How in the name of the sweet Baby Jesus did I end up at the January sales? Partly, I suppose, the old navy blue anorak was no longer keeping the wet out like it did, and I needed a new coat. I also needed to get out of the house. So I put on all my bling and my flat cap and sauntered to the bus stop picturing a leisurely coffee and lunch somewhere quaint while taking in the outdoor clothing store. 

The snow having retreated, my mostly elderly fellow passengers were looking either at nothing or out at a scene the colour of washing up water. The prerequisite noisy family in baggy pink velour were shouting cheerfully and colourfully at each other, pausing only for random corporal punishments. This should have been the first clue, but I got off the bus in the slightly euphoric state that unashamed idleness sometimes induces

I don't get out a lot - not in daylight anyhow - and when I got to the shopping centre I enjoyed listening to the man with a bible who said that shopping would not bring salvation. I now realise that his words should have been another clue, but I headed for the new precinct all the same. I soon found myself in another universe. I was surrounded by glass and steel, but somehow I wasn't indoors. Also the escalators did a weird thing that put me in mind of the work of Max Escher, in that the next level was always somehow the one before. No-one else seemed the least bothered. Eyes alight with purpose, they dived expertly in and out of shops, while I stood there wondering why places were all called Zizzi, or Zippy, or something else suggestive of the Mediterranean in an electrical storm. I recognised 'House of Frazer'.

When I emerged from there, probably on another level, I had picked out two shirts and put them back, and had also decided against an almost perfect leather jacket. My problem is that I am extremely medium. If I say I've got a 40" chest or a size 16 collar, I'm told that that's between medium and large, but there isn't a size called merge. Really I need platform  eleven and three-quarters. The other problem is I like clothes with no bits or words. The jacket was simple, lovely leather, and ideal but for a blemish resembling a man on a horse playing polo. It was Ralph Lauren and reduced to £300. 

Fleeing to the cheaper end of the centre where the bible man had been, the way was strewn with chuggers. These are young people who try to extract promises from passersby to suppport a charity. They are on commission, it's the best they could get after graduating, it's a horrible job - but they are a menace. They girate and wobble, do wacky stuff to impress each other, and pretend to have found you at last if you should dare look in their direction. For some reason they don't usually stop me. Perhaps it's the hood on the navy anorak. One young man, also in a hood, did manage to stop me though. He gave me an oddly restrained  bit of copy in black and white on a single slip of paper. It offered 'cream supplies' and a mobile number. "In an hour," he said. I explained that I had my coffee almost black, with skimmed milk at that, and I needed one in less than five minutes. His look suggested that it was I who was from another universe. On reflection I believe he was talking about a chemical stimulant, but then so was I.

I found myself on more escalators, and in stores I didn't know I'd entered. At one point I was in M&S ladies' wear - the only man and panicking. In one place signs said "Go on pinch yourself  - it's true!" They meant their price reductions of course, but what is it about marketing copywriters that makes them blind to irony? Interestingly but unsurprisingly there was no reference whatever anywhere to yesterday's increase in VAT to 20% .

Nonetheless, when I got back on the bus I did have a purchase: a 30%-off waterproof hooded jacket the colour (in a good way) of a cow pat. A man was explaining to the young lady beside him that Aslan, the ruler of Narnia, was in fact God. Another man was dropping small change and making gestures of elaborate courtesy to any nearby women. A small child was kicking a panel just to see when we'd all start screaming. I looked out of the window instead as a man went past on a bicycle clearly talking to himself. I guess it was mostly the weird folk out at the January sales this wet Wednesday afternoon.

By the way, the loos are right up on the top level opposite TK Maxx. The music follows you in.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Old Fruitcake's 2011 Wiki Almanac

"May 2011 bring prosperity to all our readers - stuffing the bastards in the process." This is old Fruitcake's message to the world at the start of the year, and there is no prize for guessing who he might mean. He apologises that the staff have been off enjoying themselves but he's got them to work now reviewing last year and employing various arcane sciences to make astoundingly accurate predictions (fingers crossed) for the coming year.

Lessons from 2010
  • There is a particular kind of ambitious lunatic who hasn't got a clue but who people let start running things. They often have glittery eyes (e.g. Sarah Palin) and dangerous levels of self-belief
  • You can't negotiate with Mephistopheles (e.g Vince Cable)
  • Losing your job may not  always be the end of the world but it is a right hassle
  • Suddenly there may be snowdrifts or clouds of volcanic ash
  • Fruitcake Miniature College functions more efficiently, effectively, and humanely than Hardacre Collage
  • People expected too much of Barack Obama. It was inevitable.
  • A crisis can usefully be blamed on your predecessors - for a while
  • A global crisis in an unregulated banking sector can make a great excuse for dismantling public provision
  • Muslims are the new Jews. Terrorists are the new atheists and Jesuits
  • There's an awful lot we're only told by accident
Predictions for the UK in 2011
  • "We're all in this together," will come back to haunt David Cameron and his Cabinet of billionaires
  • The same gentleman will similarly be woken in the night by the phrase "The Big Society," which by then will clearly mean giving bossy people with time on their hands the chance to get in the way
  • Mephistopheles will turn up in Nick Clegg's bedroom looking at his watch and suggesting running shoes
  • The Labour Party - recognising how seriously it pissed people off with the Iraq war, and by trying to be the Conservatives, and wanting to watch me going shopping on CCTV, etc etc, will announce loudly and clearly that what it wants to do is help people look after each other on a basis of equality (this item courtesy of a phoenix)
  • Ed Milliband will at last start to feel the force strong within him (this item courtesy Obi-Wan Kanobi)
  • A Conservative Government - Sorry? Oh, yes - a Coalition Government led by the Conservative Party will increase the tax on pretty much everything in the world to 20% (honestly, it's called VAT and it's happening at midnight tonight)
  • Changes in the funding of education will create a new generation of politically active people - hopefully across social divides
Predictions for the world in 2011
  • Like the sun , a great emperor will arise in the east, and a great emperor will sink in the west (well, this sort of thing worked for Nostradamus)
  • Poor people will sell bits of their brains to rich people (What? They do already?)
  • We will wear curiously close fitting silver clothes as we manoeuvre our jet packs and glide about on moving pavements (because  it has to come true at last sometime - we were promised in the comics)
  • There will be snow storms and volcanoes (so to speak)
  • When the sun is in Taurus it will be time to start counting spoons (my voices tell me)
  • It will be time to start planting broad beans before we know it
  • A great leader with huge whiskers, a love of fish, and a loud voice will lead humanity into a true understanding of idleness
A new year, a new term - homework for leaders everywhere
Take off all your clothes and look in a full-length mirror a long long time.

Let's hope it works