Sunday 31 March 2013

Cannington College (2)

Norman D

Norman was a Scot who became Head of Food Technology after the untimely death of Brian Galloway. Although Norman was a good teacher he seemed to me to struggle as a manager - he tended to have favourites and nothing destroys morale quicker than a manager doing this. That said he went on the greater things with Network Training so I can only suppose that I never saw him at his best! 

Mike B

Where to start? Mike was very much a colleague with two contrasting sides to his character. I always thought that he was capable of sustained high quality work when it was in his interest to do so! When there was honour, glory or recognition to be gained perhaps? But if it was a project being run by somebody else it was a very different matter and non-participation was usually the name of the game. Mike went on greatness with Network Training working alongside Norman Dickie.

Richard F

I always think of Richard F and Mike S (see below) as a pair. This would seem strange to people that knew them both because in reality they were as different as chalk from cheese. They both started at Cannington a couple of months before me and Richard took over from Norman D not long before I accepted a promoted post in Daventry. It was impossible to dislike Richard although he and I had little in common.

David M

Dave knew more about bakery technology than the rest of us put together. I liked Dave because in true Liverpudlian fashion he didn't suffer fakes or frauds or pomposity gladly, or indeed at all. Dave and I made an, unsuccessful, attempt to set up a small business selling pictures which I still think should have worked better than it did. All too soon Dave left post-16 teaching and returned, so we all thought, to Liverpool. Much later I was told by a former student that he was still living in Somerset several years later. All rather curious. In 2012 I received a very strange email that claimed to be from him but when I replied it all went quiet again.

Steve S

I shared an office with Steve for many years. A really nice bloke and an excellent teacher. It was a great loss to further education when Steve moved up to Blackpool to run a hotel. Steve used to eat a lunch of bran - just bran with no extras - for reasons that were not clear to the rest of us.

Mike S

Mike had a lot of experience in the dairy industry and this was his main teaching responsibility. He was respected by the students but some of his colleagues were very unimpressed by Mike lecturing them on "professionalism". My favourite memory of Mike was when he and I attended a job interview near Nottingham. He seemed to have zero interest in the job on offer and was only applying because he could not bear the thought of me getting a promoted post before him! I still remember the unflattering song that Steve S wrote about him.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Living in a bubble?

What is the link between Fox News, the Republican Party and some of the smallest sub-sects of the Christian Church?

The answer is that the people involved live in a bubble, almost entirely surrounded by like-minded people and hence having little or no contact with alternative views of the world. Republican voters who watched Fox News were genuinely amazed by the recent election result - primarily because they had accepted the Fox News opinion polls as accurate. On Election Night even when it was clear to almost everybody else that their side had lost they remained in denial.
It is pretty much the same with most, if not all, of the non-mainstream Protestant splinter groups. Members find that their friendship groups, their social life and even their political views have foundations in their particular brand of religion.  You might expect that most Christians of all denominations would be politically to the left of centre and heavily into the dignity of man and human rights.  In practice many stalwarts of these smaller fringe churches are almost unendurably pompous - appearing to outsiders as almost totally indifferent to the bigger picture.

Nothing is too much trouble for them when it comes to helping member of their own tiny clique but when it comes to the “Big Society” far too many of them simply do not want to get involved. Or if they do want to get involved they think that they should wield influence out of all proportion to their tiny numbers. To them democracy isn’t about the counting of heads but the weighing of heads -  with their heads counting for vastly more than those “poor unfortunates” existing outside their personal bubble.

Thursday 21 March 2013

Cannington College

Cannington College, or the Somerset College of Agriculture and Horticulture as it was sometimes called, was a million miles away from being a typical further education college.

The dominant union within FE was, and still is, NATFHE.  At Cannington College lecturers had to look to the totally hopeless Association of Agricultural Education Staff (AAES) for support rather than NATFHE. The AAES Branch Chairman was an odious little horticultural lecturer who seemed to be politically well to the right of most rational human beings.  He had zero interest in the views of people outside his small clique – loftily dismissing the rest of us of living in “cynics corner”.
My finest hour at Cannington was when I stood against him in the election for staff representative on the governing body.  I received over 65% of the votes, and he came third - out of 3. But even then, despite the fact that AAES membership then tumbled and NATFHE membership soared, AAES were regarded by the bosses as the "voice of the staff".

My third finest hour was closely linked to the first.  Norman Dickie, of whom more later, was grumbling, in the context of performance management, that I didn’t have a high enough profile on the staff. I mentioned the election result and he hastily changed the subject.
Number 2 on my all-time list centered around the strangest job interview I ever had.  There was going to be a promoted post within the department.  There were 2 internal candidates but curiously one Norman Dickie, stout yeoman of the parish, neglected to tell one of the candidates, that would be me, that the interviews were taking place the next day.  I ended up with about 3 minutes warning so unsurprisingly I didn’t get the job.  Subsequently dropping Norman into the mire almost made missing out on the job worthwhile!

It was about now that I realised that it was time for me to move on. I did some work for the Somerset Information Technology Unit (SITU) and this gave me the confidence and the experience to apply for a promoted post at a mainstream further education college in Northamptonshire.

I got the job and the next day I submitted my letter of resignation to a rather shocked Principal. It seems as most people had assumed that I wouldn't get offered the job - and most of the rest thought that I would not take it even if I had been offered it. It was fun to prove them wrong.

I never taught Food Technology again!

Friday 15 March 2013

Sally Nicholson's thoughts on religion

Sally said - "Turns out most religions could take a leaf out of sikhism's book. A fab assembly today from "a man in a hat" (according to my Year 1's!). "If you want to believe in God, that's great. If you don't want to believe in any God, that's great too!"

As I said only the other week - "If somebody wants to meet up with a few like-minded people in a former warehouse under the guise of calling it a church go ahead, I would be the last person to interfere."  Just don't expect me to be in awe of your splinter group off a subsect of just one denomination of the Church that split off the Catholic Church in the middle ages. 

Religion gives great joy to many people. It also gives comfort and solace to people in some of the darkest moments of their lives. But I always wonder what motivates the "ostentatiously religious" who are prone to waving their arms around during their "church" services in some bizarre attempt to appear more religious that the people around them.

I tend to judge people on the basis of what they do, day by day and week by week. What they do during one hour on a Sunday is just a tiny part of this. Many of the most community minded people that I know have no obvious religious affiliation while two of the most religious appear to do no voluntary sector work whatsoever.

My suspicion is that some of these fringe religious groups are in for a major shock when they reach the proverbial "Pearly Gates".  "But what did you do that was useful to society at large?" is a question likely to leave them floundering!

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Justice for a student I mentor!

I have been mentoring a university student who lost both her parents in a car accident when she was in year 12 (lower sixth form). She went to live with her maternal grandparents who turned out to be totally vile people.

She had a nightmare six months living with them but was so unhappy and felt so unsafe that she moved back into the family home on her own to escape. She must have been desperate to do this in the middle of her A levels. One thing led to another and in the end she complained to the police and the whole affair was taken out of her hands. 

The case reached its conclusion this week and at the Crown Court Granddad was sentenced to 3 years and 6 months (with some sort of reduction for pleading guilty) and his wife got 12 months (also with a small reduction). Granddad got 1 year for the fraud (basically stealing her money), 1 year for the domestic burglary (breaking into the family house the day after the accident to remove cash and jewels) and 3 years and 6 months for assault (hitting the poor girl with all sorts of objects for such major crimes as mentioning her dead parents!) - all three sentences to run concurrently.

Given that the two of them were in their 70s the court must have been very unimpressed with what they had done to give them a fairly lengthy custodial sentence.

I had a few email dealings with her Granddad and he seemed like a total nutter to me - with no redeeming features that I could detect. I’m pleased that he is sitting in prison as I write this – it rather restores my faith in fate catching up with bad people.


Wednesday 6 March 2013

Am I a libertarian?

I feel that my main responsibility is to watch my own behaviour and not to interfere with the behaviour of others (except in exceptional cases).  It doesn’t bother me in the slightest that E+E live in a clan marriage or that my elder daughter is co-habiting with her boyfriend. Similarly I don’t know and I don’t care what religion my neighbours practice. I have a moral framework that suits me – one that has developed over many years – and I would regard it as unacceptable, almost laughable, for me to attempt to impose my system of beliefs on anybody else.

So for example if somebody wants to meet up with a few like-minded people in a former warehouse under the guise of calling it a church go ahead, I would be the last person to interfere.  Providing of course that not one penny of my money is used to subsidise their operation.  I would say that groups like that should not attract tax breaks of any form. If I allow them to receive any of my money then I am in effect accepting that their rights are more important than mine.  
I am comfortable with the idea of a central government that provides services that it would be difficult to arrange at the local level. But the breadth of my comfort zone is, to some, surprisingly narrow. As an example I would not subsidise the railways by a penny.  If current users don’t want to pay the increased fares that would result then employers would have to raise salaries or move the business to where the people were. Their choice, their freedom if you like, but they shouldn’t look to me for money.  The total cost, both human and financial, of the centralisation of business activity in London is mind bogglingly large and it comes out of the pockets of us all.

Friday 1 March 2013

What happened next to the Corbetts

Just for fun I have come up with four possible frameworks for a "What happened next to the Corbetts" book

Version 1 – Although Peter exchanged regular letters with Joan and the children he never saw his family again as he was killed on active service off the coast of Norway in April 1940. Joan and the children returned to England shortly after VE Day in 1945 but they were never happy in their former home in Southampton and they all returned to Canada within a matter of months.

(This would be a book mainly set in war-time Canada and would be a fairly major research project if the mass of detailed information needed in the book was to be factually accurate.)

Version2 – Peter survived the war and Joan and the children were reunited with him in 1945. Sadly he and Joan, like so many married couples separated by the war, had drifted apart during the six years that they lived their own lives and they divorced in 1946 with Joan taking the children back to Canada the same year.
(The contrast between the sadness of gradually increasing emotional separation and the happiness of the war moving to a successful conclusion might have worked rather well)
Version 3 – Peter survived the war and Joan and the children were reunited with him in 1945. Peter went back to being a family solicitor - based in Southampton as before.  The children found post-war austerity Britain very different from the wealthier and more relaxed Canadian lifestyle they had got to know so well during their six years away and Peter never managed to establish a normal parental relationship with them. He was found drowned in the Solent in 1951 and an open verdict was recorded.

(This would be my first choice. Lots of potential for tension and an ending that would leave questions unanswered.)

Version 4 – Joan and the children never made it to Canada. Reports of intense submarine activity caused the liner to return to Brest only 48 hours after it had departed. Joan found Peter a matter of minutes before he was due to sign the papers committing him to naval service for the duration of the war. After much discussion the whole family sailed back to England and Peter saw his family safely established in rural Shropshire before he returned to Portsmouth to enlist. He survived the war and was reunited for good with his family in late 1945.
(This could be a "two threads running side-by-side" book - I think it could be quite effective and since there is lots of source material around it would be tolerably easy to research the fine detail required throughout.)