In education, this is often the time of year that people move on to new posts or retirement. This year, in particular, several of my colleagues at Moray House are making way for new people to continue their work. It has been a reflective time, therefore, and a time to connect with friends old and new, and the influencers and mentors who have had such great impact on all of our lives, at gatherings where careers are celebrated and good wishes for the future are shared.
Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata advises that a career is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time, but the wise man knows when it is time to let go and move on. One such wise man who is moving on, at a gathering of friends and colleagues where there was food and sunshine, honeysuckle and wine, recited Norman McCaig’s Small Boy in the context of clearing out his office of the chattels and keepsakes of many years in his role as he prepares to leave.
We found a new place for our annual June birthday lunch: Copper Blossom on George Street and North Castle Street. The menu is varied and inviting, with a range of great food from “bites” to deli sandwiches, to a full Sunday Roast.
I settled on ham and eggs and it was excellent: tender and perfectly cooked gammon under a light glaze, a perfectly fried duck egg and home fries in a bucket. There’s a short wine list that covers most preferences and a similarly short but irresistible dessert menu. The horror of there being no trifle left was amply mitigated by a compensatory Eton Mess that did not disappoint.
One particular delightful surprise was Alicia Ukelele, who sang for all of us as we enjoyed our meal. She has a really good voice and interprets a great catalogue of songs in a way that’s summery and joyous. I particularly loved her rendering of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”. Alicia is a music therapist and that’s not a surprise when you hear her performing.
You can hear more of Alicia over at Soundcloud, or better still why not go along to Copper Blossom and see her live on a Sunday afternoon?
This is Audrey Bourne, my mother, in her younger days singing one of the wartime favourites I grew up with. She sang, standing on top of Letchworth fire station in 1945 on VE Day, home after her stint with the Land Army (having lied about her age). The photo shows her around that age. She sang all through my childhood and now, at 87, sings no more: she has lost none of her spirit and even if her vocal chords have failed her, her mind has not.
I set up a test site for a photography journal over at http://dev.cullaloe.net/koken/. I’ve been trying a number of alternatives and hosting options: koken is php software that runs on a Linux server over a mySql database and Apache. I happen to have one of those at dev.cullaloe.net.
So far, it looks like it has really nice features, including a tight integration with Adobe Lightroom that allows you to set up a direct publishing link. Most of the images on the site are reduced-size versions of some of my “good” photos.
I have found some bugs and irritations: the admin back-end fails completely from time to time, requiring clearing of api file cache over FTP. Themes are limited but they are quite pretty, I think, with development quite straightforward.
The original developer of this programme sold out to a new owner last year, I believe, but there seems to be some investment in bug fixing and development.
So far I don’t think it’s stable enough for a main online portfolio: you should probably just buy yourself a 500px Awesome membership for that and use the portfolio feature of that site.
On a Delta Airlines flight a number of years ago, I was lucky enough to be sat next to the author Richard Ford. This must have been shortly before he picked up a Pulitzer for his novel, The Sportswriter. Neither of us probably recall the conversation during the flight but what I do remember is that (unlike me) he made no excuse of the environment and got on with writing: scribbling in a little notebook, staring out of the window, scribbling some more, in a cycle of what I have always presumed to have been the creative process.
Personally, I find it too easy to make excuses for not writing. Wrong environment. Too noisy. Any time slot less than an hour is not enough. Must check email. Need a biscuit. Text message. Look at that dust.
I was remembering Richard’s brilliant short story collection, Rock Springs, dug it out to read again and looked him up on the web to see what he was doing. I came across a short work that he had reviewed called Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg. This is a little treasure of advice for the writer: you dip in and pick up some important little nugget that will make you feel better about yourself and gently encourage you to get back to the task you’ve quite possibly been avoiding.
At least, that’s how it worked out for me.
This week’s TES Scotland was accompanied by a separate mailing containing a flyer that in bold, red print announced ATTENTION! Action Required. The flyer went on:
AS YOU ARE AWARE, TESS SUBSCRIPTIONS ARE EVOLVING. AS PART OF THIS, YOUR CURRENT TERMS AND CONDITIONS HAVE BEEN UPDATED. THESE MUST BE ACCEPTED BY FRIDAY, 5 JUNE IN ORDER TO CONTINUE RECEIVING TESS.
I wasn’t aware, actually. Following the link to the website, there are a lot of new terms and conditions that seem to be binding me into a new contract in which I:
… agree that we at our sole discretion, without notice to you, may: (i) terminate or amend the General Terms or these Additional Terms
Er, no. Not acceptable. I will not write a blank cheque. All I want is a magazine, through my door every Friday, that I can read and throw away. I don’t want anything else, thank you, least of all an open-ended commitment to your corporate insensitivity to your customers’ needs.
Frankly, I’ve not enjoyed the changes to the TESS that have taken it from a well-staffed, relevant and useful newspaper (remember those?) to something that’s over-commercialised, London centric and off the pulse that I now merely skim and recycle. The great writers are all but gone: Douglas Blane, Liz Buie, Gregor Steele: what’s left is the best efforts of the last man standing, padded out with material from another jurisdiction. If I want to keep up with the news of what’s happening in education in Scotland, there are plenty of alternatives in the mainstream, social media and networks.
There is a real gap in the market for a regular news journal for education in Scotland. Here, there are plenty of engaged and articulate teachers, lecturers and leaders who could contribute relevant, critical commentary and shared experience for the rest to enjoy and benefit from. Anybody out there fancy taking that forward?
I went to see Interstellar last night. After all the hype and ravings of friends who had seen it, I was disappointed. This three-hour epic story had the style of 1970’s sci-fi, with heavy elements of fantasy clumsily stitched together with a good deal of shark jumping. The most striking thing about the movie is the blind insularity of its American cultural setting: the mid-West is suffering from food shortages caused by blight of major crops and American astronauts save the day. The star-spangled banner is spangled everywhere you look.
As well as the food problem, there is an unexplained problem of dust, perhaps due to soil erosion from the decimation of crops. Up steps the hero who mysteriously finds himself at a secret NASA facility near his farm. By now the plot punchline has revealed itself. The story tries to bring some cool popular physics ideas to the fore, with black holes and wormholes key features of the eventual trip to space to save the human race, or at least the white Americans of the corn belt.
There is much of the physics in the film which makes it attractive for a school trip: Scottish Higher students should be able to have fun picking over the many movie-maker’s errors: the twin paradox, relativity, gravitational gradients, event horizons and some very basic Newtonian mechanics are all at the Godzilla level of believability. There’s a lot more in the rich seam of “Hollywood Physics” throughout this story.
The signature US film-maker’s stereotype is predictably here: there’s a woman on the mission, and she makes the stupid mistake that signals that things are all going to go wrong. A change of genre appears when Matt Damon goes rogue in proper B-Western fashion and attacks the Sheriff. The movie passes through a pale imitation of Kubrick’s 2001 before getting a little emotional, staying just short of melodrama before delivering the final credibility seppuku by sending the hero back for the stranded girl.
This is a horribly narcissistic movie about Americans saving America/The World (the terms are interchangeable in this context) with ignorance, A Bad Guy and some nauseating moralising, badly done. I wish I’d gone to see the Turing film instead.