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 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 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

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       Many thanks, come back soon.