Monday, November 29, 2010


This'll be my lot in the Town Hall on Dec 11th: Christmas begins then and not before!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Northern Man: an endangered species!

We are knee deep in snow and ice but we are in the North of England where Real Men roam - in T-shirts or vests. As a refugee from the South it has often struck me - as I wear my overcoat, gloves, scarf and hat - that men are made from a different mold here: or so they would have us believe.

For a while I believed it was a simple reaction to less frequent sunlight. "I need more vitamin D. I know, I'll get my kit off." I don't think that now.

I went out last night -wrapped up to the nines - and encountered a number of men in various stages of hypothermia.

"No, no. These aren't goose bumps. It's a manifestation of my testosterone."

Ah, righty-ho then.

In addition to the usual northern male are the wannabes: a city with two universities and numerous colleges, is the natural habitat of the male student. With the locals a hard act of alpha-manliness to follow, (you know sleeveless vest, cigarette in mouth, multiple tattoos and a can of beer), are those who have to lay down a gauntlet, a challenge. Having A Levels is, it seems, no guarantee of common sense. I have long wondered at what stage during the undergraduate three years students are taught to walk on the pavement on a Friday or Saturday night - but I digress. Headingley is a perpetual fancy dress party at weekends. Last night I encountered a number of shivering young men in vests and tutus.

"Don't confuse this as shivering. This is the effect of my male pheromones."

Fair enough.

One absolute big girl's blouse was actually wearing a thin hoody but in the way of these things the pack had turned on him and he was an outcast, reduced to wandering in the wake of the rest and vulnerable to being picked off by circling packs of Romans in togas.

Those blue tights are fetching ... O sorry, that's your current skin tone.

"Cold? What cold? I can handle it."

And then, of course, we add alcohol to the heady mixture and the lads pass out in the snow.

"It's O.K. nurse. This is what a real man looks like."

Frostbite is the new black.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I See

Yes, it's cold.
No you can't have my coat, my hat, my gloves, my boots.

Yes, it's cold out.
No, I had noticed, I've been standing in it for two, three maybe four hours.

Yes, it's icy.
No, they haven't gritted it, they might be gritting bus routes and thoroughfares.

Yes, it's slippy.
I've been watching folk fall over all night.

Yes, it's cold.
It's bloody winter, you'd be stunned if it wasn't at 3 in the morning.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


So, allegedly we are due an OFSTED inspection in the near future. You can tell by the clues: Senior Managers suddenly demanding the update of policies; panicky requests that you update your departmental profile on the website. "Have you done your departmental marking audit yet?" and so on.

No I'm too busy actually teaching.

And now we have Pupil Voice. There's a strong chance I may not be on message here.

I have been given a folder to keep documentation in. OFSTED can tell a good school by how well its folders are kept I understand. In my folder is a questionnaire which asks pupils about their lessons in my subject. There are a number of words pupils are to circle to best reflect their sense of how they experience their learning. "Boring" is one of them. So with a certain degree of cynicism I trial this with one of my classes. They pretty largely respond that they like my lessons but almost all also select "boring" as one of their key words without, it seems, recognising the innate contradiction inherent in that juxtaposition.

I take the questionnaire and have it retyped, substituting the word "enjoying" for "boring". I trial it with a second class of similar ability and disposition. Almost every child circles "enjoying". They are, it seems, only bored when they see that option written down.

"I am a teenager. School is boring. Ergo I am bored. Simple as. If I am not given the option of being bored I have to confess that I am enjoying my learning"

Ah, the complexity of the teenage mind.

They are also asked to suggest something the teacher could do more of. Apparently they'd like me to play more games.

Then they are asked to suggest something I should do less of. Apparently I make them write. They don't like writing. (In a lesson last week Georgina (AKA Vicky Pollard) was incensed because I had the temerity to expect her to do some reading and some writing). No they don't like writing.

"All we ever do is write."

Well apart from the DVD watching  ...

"But all we ever do is write."

... and the discussion work.....

"Yeah, but all we ever do is write" (Or occasionally wright).

... and the PowerPoint presentations ...

"It's all writing."

... and the computer work ...

"Writing, writing, writing. It's not fair."

... and the role play. But apart from that all we ever do is write.

"My hand hurts."

Look guys. Newsflash - writing is one of the things we do in school. If I could guarantee that you could leave this room every lesson having absorbed everything we have discussed for all time, we wouldn't need to write. But guess what? You can't remember what we did yesterday and you wrote that down. Well not you Georgina, obviously.

Exam results Headteacher? I'm sorry. We were so busy having fun in the classroom and playing games, I never actually got around to teaching them anything. Still I ENGAGED them. And my folder is lovely.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Teenagers, Sex Ed. and Chlamydia

"Ryan! Stop waving your wee in my face" isn't an admonishment a teacher hears too often in his career and so I zoned in fairly swiftly from my autopilot reverie.


Sir. Tell him!

Tell him what?

He's waving his wee in my face.

Ryan. Apparently you're waving your wee in her face. Will that do Shona?

No. Tell him to stop. It's not nice.

To cut a long story short I explored the situation further. Doorman-Poirot gets his man. Well his boy.

There had been a special Enterprise Event in school today - no don't ask, my blood pressure, don't you know - where some outside agency had offered chlamydia testing to our students. Don't get me wrong: STIs are a serious issue and anything that improves the situation has to be good, but somewhere along the line something seems to have gone wrong. Take Ryan. Anyone less likely to have contracted an STI would be hard to imagine. Weedy, buck-toothed and with very thick lensed glasses Ryan isn't your immediate best-guess for a teenaged lothario.

But sir, they were giving out free boxer-shorts to anyone who had a test so I had a go.

They were rather classy. Might pop over myself after break, assuming I can wade through the litter of blown up condoms.

Ah, teenagers: so much fun.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fronting Up

Some encounters you have, you know fairly bloody quickly you've not got the firepower.
When you've got a lad with you who's pulled his back, another inside, working straight through after a 12 hour static site shift and 3 hours sleep preceding and a new lad, keeping the smoking area tidy at about the extreme of his capability and skill keeping the smokers outside and the drinks in.
When a large group of lively gentlemen who clearly enjoy some extra-dietary supplements and are thoroughly in drink decide a visit to the venue you're at will make their night complete. 7 big ones, 1 older one and 2 young ones make up the group. In a line-up by body weight or bicep I'd have weighed in seventh or eighth out of the lot of us.
"Sorry gents, not tonight" goes the initial approach aimed at the first pair to make it within easy hearing range of the door.
This doesn't slow them and they end up well inside my personal space before they clock that the words were meant for them and I'm not shifting myself out of the way.
The rest of the group stumble to a stop and I continue with a slightly more padded explanation.
"Alright gents, we don't do large groups, we don't do only lads and a few of you have had one to many to get in. Try somewhere else tonight gents."
"You're fucking joking mate. We're of in after some totty."
"No Gents, you're not coming in, we're not the place for you tonight"
First bit of real confrontation, a very assertive negative statement with a dissuading tone after.
The trick is then to gauge the response, without the numbers or the bulk, it's time to get clever. Give them time to hang themselves. There strength in numbers and confidence is also their weakness. They all think it's worth their effort to have a verbal go.
"You're a dickhead." "Get real" "Are you going to stop us?" "Fuck off you knobhead"
By this point you've identified the three or four gobby ones, the three who could be persuaded and the three who will want to keep out of it right until their blood's up.
Just hold the position, keep silent, keep watching, ready to spring if needed. Don't rise and respond, don't manoeuvre to get a better place. If you move to take an upper hand, they'll see it and if they want to just blast past. If you do nothing, they have to get angry or physical against a passive enemy. Not an overt fists up, screaming, red faced opponent, but a mute, immobile, passive obstacle. Most gents don't get it, can't manage to get angry without some escalation. Give it a ridiculous amount of time and they'll fail to find a way in.
Not always going to work, very low effort solution when it does.
Takes some serious patience but better than dancing back to back with your colleague as you keep your guard up and wait for the boys in blue.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Back to Vicar School

(This isn't us at the Police College: God forbid!)

Back to the Wakefield Police College for another session on Mission with Dr. Matthew Guest of Durham University. The seats on the back row of the lecture theatre have more leg room so Hilda, Monica and I staked our claim while Stuart and Dr. Bob ("I'm suffering from a dreadful cold. I'm as deaf as a post") opted for the cheap seats further forward. As it happened everyone was well miked up so it didn't matter where we sat.

I was quite looking forward to this session as it was to focus on the congregation and mission and I was hoping for some insights into congregational dynamics. As it happened the first session was directed towards research methodology in preparation for in-house surveys. Not at all my scene, so aided on this occasion by St. Ipod and Bach played by Suha and Guher Pekinel on the piano, I settled into something of a private revery telling Monica to nudge me if I snored.

Nevertheless I picked up some gems: it is quite clear that the congregation is recognised as the local collective gathering and it has become the dominant form of the expression of religion and spirituality alongside and sometimes in competition with (often) fragmented systems of central hierarchy. One of the key questions seemed to be whether the local congregation knows its boundaries. It would be interesting - and challenging - to ask where the local congregation sees itself in relation to the wider institution. There has certainly been much discussion about the pronouncements of church leaders not being backed up by the masses in the pews. Is it even possible to offer a fair representation of a congregational community when internal expressions of value or belief are diverse or in disagreement with the mother institution?

I couldn't help at this point wondering, as an example, how Evangelicals deal with contemporary culture and where that leaves that congregation in the context of a more progressive religious environment. Is the church a beleagured enclave guarding orthodoxy or is it a thorn in the side of the wider church? It is in this context that we hear of whole congregations defecting to another church or witholding their parish contribution to the central coffers on a point of religious doctrine and principle.

The cultural shift of the late 1970s put the individual and his subjective experience as the new norm which doesn't sufficiently take into consideration the mediating structures the individual functions in, i.e. the local congregation or the wider central authority. Does this mean that we are more than usually likely to search for the congregation that most closely fits our worldview rather than sticking with the old denominational allegances? Is our sense of misiology linked to that? Does the congregation we attend reflect one of the standard models of mission and is that at odds with what the central authority sees as its mission model? How is this resolved?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Muslims, Tabloids (again) and Remembrance

The day after our wonderful Remembrance Day assembly one of my pupils asked:

Sir. Did you hear about what Muslims did?

Now primed by having listened to the Today programme I already knew what she was referring to. A small group of Muslims had burned a large poppy in a demonstration about the British military presence in Afghanistan and chanted slogans like "British soldiers burn in Hell." Well, yes, incredibly insensitive but hardly worth a banner headline or a front page photo given the isolated nature of the incident and the small number of people involved. My newspaper gave it no column inches. The Daily Mail on the other hand, that bastion of right-thinking did both.

TEXT HERE (It's worth having a look at the comment thread, particularly the "best rated" to get a sense of just who this paper is aimed at.)

Note the juxtaposition of white patriotic boy and brown unpatriotic boys. Oh! Let me think. What is the message here I wonder?

My pupil is a lovely girl. She was not being awkward but merely expressing confusion and a need for clarification. On Remembrance day she was on study leave and so not present in our special assembly. It was worth stopping the class (Buddhism, suffering and evil) to discuss the issue and hopefully nipping in the bud the sort of response the oh-so-respectable Daily Mail would wish to whip up while claiming to abhor racism.

I talked about the assembly and about how moving it was. I also talked about how every member of staff came into the Sports Hall including our Muslim colleagues and student teachers, each of whom was wearing a poppy and each of whom stood with bowed heads during the two minute silence.

I'd like the Daily Mail to have featured that picture. Or this one:


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Iraqi Christians - the plight

There doesn't seem to be as much in the media about this as I would have expected. In today's Guardian, however, there are a couple of excellent articles.

"The irony of Bush's Iraq invasion is that it may have wiped out his faith where other conquests have failed"


"I am terrified to live in this society. We are being slaughtered like sheep. Yet this is our country."


"They called me from the church. I heard it all live, the bombs, the screaming"


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembrance Day at the Knowledge College

It was a significant day at school today: Yrs 10 & 11 had an important science exam and were on study leave this morning and today is Remembrance Day. That left the 600+ youngsters in Lower School to have their own Remembrance Assembly.

"Bring them down to the Sports Hall at 10.45" we were told.

I had a lovely Yr 9 class and we were making good headway with Religious Myth as a bone fide literary genre when the time came. To what extent these kids had any real awareness of the significance of the day is open to question but they entered the hall in appropriately sombre mood and sat in silent rows while First World War images were projected to the background reading of  war poems.

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

Rupert Brooke

You could have heard a pin drop. Every child wore a poppy and every member of staff was present - teachers, admin staff, technicians and Site Services.

A member of the Music Dept played the Last Post on her trumpet and the two minute silence was absolute. It was incredibly moving and I felt inordinately proud.

Children came forward to light candles and each child named aloud a former pupil who had fallen in combat.

They left in silence to video extracts of soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

We learnt later that traffic on the motorway had spontaneously stopped and that the city centres had ground to a silent halt.

How fitting!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Giles Fraser on Gene Robinson

Despite the conservatives, churchgoers are inspired by Gene Robinson. Though the gay bishop is retiring early, some day the Anglican church hierarchy will see homophobia as an evil.

Read Text Here

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


There are some people who always bring a drama with them. They've normally got an overactive gob and are always blameless for any of the activity. There will have been insults, slights, historic misbehaviour, outfit choices, venue choices and of course potential partner choices all joining the list of affronts. Never in the wrong, always in my ear. Not going to win me round by the more you talk, the more you achieve approach to arguing, I tend to lean the other way. The more you gab on, ranting shite, the less I'm willing to do.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Joke of the Day: Obama is a Socialist...Hahahahahaha

The Democrats are to the Right of our Right wing Party, the Conservatives. Our Left Wing party, the Labour Party, is Socialist. To any American readers please be aware that European Socialism is not the same as Stalin's Gulags or Kim Il Jong's worker's paradise. Some of you would get along just fine here: democracy, free and pretty objective press, a fairly civilised political landscape ... oh no, not that last one: you wouldn't recognise that. And we tend to lock up dangerous people rather than giving them talk shows to host. Just saying.

I become mildly offended when some folk insist on discussing Socialism as if it's symbol is 666. Really people, think before you speak!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sir v The Teenagers

One of the Pastoral Staff collared me today:

Ah I'm glad to see you. Melissa's asked if she can be moved out of your R.S. group.


She says you're always on her case and you make her sit on her own.

That's teenspeak for "He moved me because I'm always talking to people around me and distracting them and not getting on with my work."

Unreasonable man. She also said you picked on her.

That's teenspeak for "Now that I'm sitting under his nose he can see how little work I do and I'm not used to having to complete work to a reasonable standard and be held accountable.

So not moving groups then?



Jaimie. I've told you three times now to get on with your work. Show me what you've done so far. Oh, a blank page. That's very impressive in your GCSE year. You may have noticed that at no stage did I say "If you can be bothered." It's not an option. I expect you to do the same work as everyone else.

For God's sake!


My work fell on the floor.

There's nothing on the page. Are you trying to tell me that the words dribbled off the page and landed on the floor?

This is pathetic.

I agree.

It's rubbish this. I hate it.

I'm sorry to put you out so much. What's liking something got to do with doing your best?

I'm not doing it. I don't see why I should.

That'll work well as a strategy in later life. Good luck with that conversation with your first employer.
This is really impressive two days before a parents' consultation evening. Have you got a death wish?

My mum say's she doesn't want to see you any more.

We'll see.


Ring Ring: Hello, is that Jamie's Mum. I'm just ringing about the parents' evening. Jamie says you no longer want to see me.

Oh. What subject is this?

Religious Studies.

I don't have Religious Studies on my appointments list.

I gave him 5.25.

Strange that I don't have that.

Particularly as he said you no longer wanted to see me.

Can you do 5.55?

Perfect. See you then.