littlemavis

Little_Mavis' rants and musings


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When I were a lass

After my Infant School post I was going to move straight on to Junior School but I thought some background context might be useful.

This isn’t going to be a carefully structured, well-thought-out post, more random musings as I remember things.

I grew up in a small market town in South Yorkshire that was surrounded by pits. Back

cadeby

This is the pit where both my grandfathers worked

then, it was reasonably prosperous as such places go. (When I went back last year it was dingy and run down. I already knew that all the places I played as a child had been built on but there wasn’t really anything left. Every school I had attended had been demolished. But that’s all beside the point)

The vast majority (of men) were employed and it was normal for women to leave work after they had children. The jobs were mainly in mining, both my grandfathers and one of my uncles were miners, and there was a large locomotive loco (railway locomotive maintenance and stabling depot), though this closed in the mid sixties. My dad was a railway fireman. He started as a cleaner at 17 or so after leaving the local technical college and ended up, before he retired in the early 90s driving InterCity 125s. My mum went back to work in some kind of factory after I was born and I was looked after by my grandma. She gave up work after my brother was born four years later. For the first three or four years we lived with my grandma (My granddad died when I was 2 or so) in a council house but then bought a small terraced house.

The house we moved into was a terrace with three bedrooms a front room and a living kitchen. No bathroom (It had been built in 1924) and no heating apart from coal fires. I’m not sure if there were fireplaces in the bedrooms. For cooking, we had a built in coal oven in an enamelled range (rather than the cast iron ones that were still in some houses) ovenThe nearest I can find to what it looked like was this. We also had a 2 ring gas burner and a geyser for hot water. There was only a cold tap. Over time (don’t ask me when) we had a bath installed in the kitchen in the alcove next to the chimney. And a back boiler installed to heat water. My dad boxed it in with a lid to cover it when it wasn’t in use and when we had a bath we used a clothes horse covered in a blackout curtain to screen us off from the rest of the family.

There was an outside toilet, not too far from the back door rather than across a yard. We kept a paraffin lamp in there to heat the pipes in winter.

Again, over time a bathroom was added, with some sort of government grant, and eventually central heating, though that may not have been until after I left home. We had no phone (hardly anyone did. If we needed to we used the phone box at the bottom of the street), no fridge and the TV had 2 channels.

We played out a lot. You had to be careful where you played and often be careful how much noise you made as there were always people on night shift. As well as in the street, where it was reasonably safe to play because there were very few people in the street with cars, there was plenty of waste ground to play on. Having looked at old maps these tended to be places that had previously been used as quarries or clay pits though there was a big park nearby with hawthorn bushes along the side to make dens.

Kids tended to play out together in mixed age groups. The older ones looked after the smaller ones. Any adults around kept half an eye on everybody. Disagreements sometimes ended in physical fights without any serious harm done.

We walked to school from quite an early age, but there was far less traffic then. Lots of corner shops, in fact they were on pretty much every corner. Within easy walking distance of our house I can remember a couple of grocers, a post office, an off-licence (beer-off), a butchers, a newsagents a chip shop, 2 cobblers, a Co-op which was a big grocers where you could buy sugar or “best” butter by the pound.

We also had a “potato man” come round every Friday delivering vegetables with one side of his van open & laid out like a market stall. The milk was delivered by a woman pulling a sort of electric handcart.

I spent a lot of time at the library in town and had pretty much read my way through the children’s library by about 11, not difficult if you’re getting through a book a day. You encyclopediaweren’t allowed to have an adult ticket until you were 14 so my dad let me use one of his tickets. You weren’t allowed to join until 5 (I think?) but although I was too young I proved I could read so they let me. I did have books of my own and I got a lot of information from Arthur Mees’s Children’s’ Encyclopaedia which was in 10 large volumes (most of Volume 10 was the Index) which I think had been published in 1920 something. At first I was only allowed Volume 1 but that got so tatty from my reading it my parents eventually relented and let me have the rest.

buntyI also was given comics by the boy who lived next door to my Grandma so I was well versed in boys’ comics such as Hotspur, Valiant and (possibly) Rover which was mostly text stories. At home I got Bunty (best bit was Bunty’s Cut Out wardrobe on the back page)

I went to Brownies at St George’s Church Hall. After the meeting we used to go to the nearby shop & buy a bag of crisps. When you bought them they had a small screw of blue paper with salt. I remember getting excited when you could first but cheese & onion crisps as well as plain. Other sweets Spangles, Penny Arrows (I liked the banana split ones), Kayli (sp?) A summer treat was frozen Jubbly.

Anyway. To finish, because I don’t really know how to finish. Things change. You don’t notice them all that much while it’s happening. I grew up,  went to university (family first), discovered a whole other world. Looking back I realised this way of growing up was similar for many, many years. The war may have speeded up development of some things but may have slowed down others. Going back now, I can hardly recognise the place. It has changed, both in the way places change over time and in a wholly different way because I think the heart has been ripped out of towns like that. It’s changed from a busy bustling town with a purpose to a collection of houses and run down shops with no direction. Apparently the HS2 line is scheduled to go right through a new housing estate there. That’s pretty awful for the people living there but I think the real damage was done years ago.

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Infant School

Infant school was a very different place when I was small.

My first school was Park Road Infants. This seems to be the only building left standing of the schools I attended.

feb8001-2I’m trying to remember what it was like but it’s a long time ago now. I think I would have started school in 1958 and things were different then. You may also need to take my memories for what they are, just memories. I haven’t checked the accuracy of any of these. My parents are dead and I doubt there are any accessible records.

The school was infant only and had 2 classes per year (I think) and possibly a nursery class. My first teacher was Mrs Swan who had long beautiful auburn hair and I remember as being kind. I remember nothing of the lessons we had, though I still have a few of the books my parents kept. If I can track them down, I’ll include photographs.

I’m not going to try to make this chronological, more a stream of consciousness recollection. I’ll note things down as I remember them.

Shape

The school was essentially classrooms off a single corridor. The hall stuck out the other side and the headteacher’s room was in the middle.

This is from memorypark-road-plan-jpg

And this is the school now

park-road-school

Teachers I remember

Rec     Mrs Swan

Yr 1    Mrs Gelder, Mrs Batty

Yr 2    Mrs Seagrave

Head  Miss Fletcher

 

General memories

  • No uniform. I don’t know of any primary schools that had uniform then.
  • The school day was generally 9am to 4pm with 1½ hours for dinner. Lots of children went home for this.
  • We had to put our heads down on our arms on the desk after dinner for a while
  • We sat in rows. At desks. I can’t remember what we kept in the desks. I don’t remember playing. Except at playtime.
  • We were given halibut oil capsules to take with our milk. They tasted vile
  • We had a maypole & learned dances  like these. It had red, blue, yellow & green ribbons. Boys held blue or green, girls held red or yellow.
  • We had a May Queen, though I only remember this in the first year I was there. I have a photo somewhere I’ll dig it out.
  • There were cupboards at the back of the hall with things to play with. I think we only got them out for wet play which was in the hall (maybe). These included wooden stilts like these or others made from Golden Syrup tins with strings through, hula hoops etc.
  • I seemed to spend a lot of time in year 1 standing behind the blackboard as a punishment for something (I really can’t remember the details but I think it was to do with disagreements with another child)
  • The year 2 teacher took a slightly different approach & punished the other child too. I remember being very pleased about this – I suspect, though again cannot actually remember & I’m basing my conclusions on what happened when I was older – I was asked if I hit her & I would have said “yes”. She was asked the same & said “no”. My downfalls over the years have often been because of my ridiculous level of honesty.
  • We learned to read with Janet & John books – no idea if it was phonics. I just learned.janet & John
  • We did an infant nativity. I was Mary. I had to sing a solo. I remember the headdress being hot, itchy and uncomfortable. I kept taking it off then putting it back on again so I’d look like Mary. I cannot remember the song. At all.
  • And at the end of three years, they sent home a report.

infant-report

I feel it is important to note that I actually only got one question wrong in Maths (¼ mark) They docked me a whole point because I spelled my name wrong at the top of the paper – I was excited!!

That’s it by the way. That’s all my parents got to inform them of progress.

Is it better now? What was it like when you were in Infant School? Can you even remember?


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Who’s to Blame?

It’s quite interesting really. When I was at school, back in the dark ages, my performance at school was definitely considered to be entirely down to me. And I mean entirely. If i didn’t do as well as the teachers thought I should it was put down to my being lazy, or not listening, or being too chatty. Luckily I mostly did OK so I didn’t get a huge amount of grief until the sixth form. To be fair, at that point, I think they were mostly right. I assumed I’d be able to do A levels easily (as I had O levels) and found I couldn’t. Because we didn’t have fancy stuff like AS levels then I didn’t realise this until I did incredibly poorly in my mocks I’ll try to track down some of my reports and you can see the comments I got. There never seemed to be (to my knowledge) any hint that a teacher hadn’t delivered enough, or that I might be bored because the lessons were boring. They told us stuff, we wrote it down, we learned it, we did exams. No Internet, just notes, textbooks and past papers. My Physics teacher back then didn’t even chase us for homework. He told us, right at the beginning of the course. “I’ll set it, you do it, you hand it in, I mark it. If you don’t, you’re the ones who lose out, not me.” He did warn us, at regular intervals what would happen if we didn’t work “You’ll fail!” (Imagine that said in a Welsh valley’s accent & that’s what Mr Edwards sounded like – I was very fond of Mr Edwards)

Anyway, I went to uni, worked my way through a couple of careers (Information Scientist, Export Sales Admin, General Sales Admin, Programming, software support) and eventually fetched up in teaching, by which time the pendulum had swung and somehow I was responsible for my students’ results. I was a bit resentful of this. Surely the students bore *some* responsibility? Especially when I was teaching post-16. By then we had been mostly expected to just get on with it in preparation for university.

I left teaching a few years ago having most definitely been blamed for some students’ less than stellar results. That’s not a euphemism, they generally passed, the results just weren’t exceptional, just not as high as for some other staff (this was in teacher marked qualifications btw, not exams) but they were honest. I’d have been happy to let any examiner come & moderate the work.

Now, I don’t know when this change happened beyond it being somewhere between when I left school in the early 70s & started teaching in the late 90s but the pendulum does seem to be starting to swing back. The schools with an authoritarian no-excuses ethos, mostly academies? Are definitely trying to put the onus back on the children. They are ranking children again (and yes, I used to know my position in class after every exam or test & when I was in high school in every subject) and they are (from what I’ve read) shaming children for poor performance. Now this is never nice for the kids.If they struggle and are doing the best they can, no amount of shaming will help. Ever.If they are lazy because they don’t care it won’t make any difference and they may well make failure a badge of honour.If they are able, and conscientious or competitive, they may regard anything less than perfection as a failure. Sometimes this is fine. Sometimes it will drive them over the edge. (I’ve seen this happen with very able A level students)

It’s not just about developing resilience. A lot of this is down to your basic personality and some children who would otherwise be healthy, happy and successful will simply not thrive under this type of regime.

So. What’s it like now. I get the feeling that we are moving back towards blaming the kids and/or their parents. (Maybe the teachers who want this aren’t used to being blamed for the lack of success because they weren’t blamed when they were kids) But, I can’t say I’m happy about this. When I was young it was our responsibility but there wasn’t such emphasis then on academic success. It was considered perfectly reasonable to be “practical” or “good with your hands” rather than being academic. This is a big issue just now and one that I know both Sue Cowley and Disappointed Idealist here and here have blogged about.

Surely there is a happy medium somewhere in all this. Isn’t it time we accepted that education is a joint enterprise involving teachers, students, parents and the state. We all have a stake in it and we should all be doing our bit. We need to value all sorts of contributions and maybe trust each other a bit more.

To be honest. I’m not holding out much hope just now. The pendulum may continue on it’s swing. I just hope we don’t damage too many children in the process.


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Temper Tantrum

I lost my temper (a bit) today. It was over something fairly unimportant in the greater scheme of things, but it left me upset and a somewhat shaky. I have always had a bit of a problem with a short temper. I deal with it mostly by avoiding things that I know will annoy me where I can. I do this by muting certain tweeters, avoiding some people, not watching Question Time, not reading below the line. If I cannot avoid I do my best to walk away. Pro tip here folks. If someone walks away from you saying “I’m going now before I say something I’ll regret”, DO NOT FOLLOW THEM TO CONTINUE THE DISCUSSION. It will not end well.

I realise that some people never lose their temper. I used to think they just had iron self-control but I’ve come round to the idea that some of us are wired differently. So. For those of you who have never had this problem, here’s what it’s like.

Imagine you abooksre carrying a pile of books. Every so often, someone comes & balances another book on top of the pile. They add them, not you, so they don’t do it very carefully but you still do your best to balance them. You don’t go down some roads because you know people with lots of books lurk there just waiting to add them onto your pile. When you get the chance, you dump some of the books in handy spots which are designed to help you dispose of them safely. Places like beautiful countryside, gyms, and cinemas.

But sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the books will topple anyway. It may happen, for instance when you are doing all the carrying with one hand because the other is occupied looking after a toddler or an elderly parent or dealing with a troublesome client or colleague at work. It may happen because you are so busy and stressed you don’t have time to remove any books because life is getting in the way. Sometimes, you are taken completely by surprise by a sudden influx of books. Someone or something comes rushing up behind you and dumps a huge number of books suddenly. You don’t see them or hear them. You’re trundling alpicture1ong, coping nicely with the pile but you weren’t expecting this and you lose balance. That kind is especially frightening and tends to leave you shaken after the sudden and completely unexpected …well…almost an attack really.

The final kind is what I suspect happened today. The pile of books has grown for reasons entirely beyond your control. They’ve been put there by circumstances that are distant and all encompassing. My pile of books just now has built up because I’m worried about my country and the world. I’ll probably be all right, well, unless someone lets Trump too near the nuclear button. I’m worried about global warming. I’m worried about the effects of leaving the EU. I’m rather selfishly sad about that partly because we’ve only really just discovered the joys of overseas travel and I suspect this will curtail future adventures. I’m worried about the apparently rampant racism and xenophobia that seems to be taking hold in the UK, US, France and elsewhere and the sheer nastiness, selfishness and lack of compassion that seems to be all around us. So. Because of this, only one tiny extra book can cause things to tumble and my temper to snap. I’d obviously been carrying this pile around for a while and hadn’t noticed how high it had become. I know now, I’ll carry carefully and make sure I can offload. I’ll make time for minor treats (I know I am lucky I can do this) I will watch where I walk and make extra sure I know when to walk away.

Ultimately, I shouldn’t have got cross today. But then, the person who annoyed me shouldn’t have done what they did either. Almost without exception what makes me cross are people who are rude or inconsiderate. I’m not excusing myself here but I am pleading provocation. I don’t get angry with people who are polite, civil and considerate. (Apologies if you think this sounds like victim blaming) I still agree I was wrong.

Writing this has helped. I hope it might help some of you understand what is happening when someone “snaps”.

As an extra, my advice if someone you know has this problem. Give them space. Let them rant a bit. It will pass. They (mostly) don’t mean most of what they say. They will be upset afterwards too. (I’m not expecting sympathy here btw just describing what happens). And above all, unless you want to drive someone to further fury, never, ever tell them to “calm down”calm

 

 

 


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A fair deal for a fair price

I’m really struggling just now with the idea that life these days seems to mainly comprise avoiding people trying to screw you out of your hard earned cash.

This is prompted by several recent events including booking a couple of days in a hotel, replacing our fridge freezer, trying to find decent apps/programmes for Windows and similar.

The fridge freezer seems fine. It’s from a local firm we’ve bought from before who seem reliable & can deliver here because they can find us. I’ll find out about the hotel infridge due course though I haven’t found the software I want for reminders and/or mind mapping.  BUT it seems to have taken an inordinate amount of time and energy to find what is reliable.

You go on line, you compare, you have to look for hidden charges because the freezer may be cheaper on X site but they charge twice as much to remove your old one and for delivery while Firm Y will deliver free.

You look at reviews, but you can’t always trust them because good reviews may have been written on the promise of vouchers or discounts and poor ones may have been written by rivals to attack the competition. If you read one star reviews on Amazon, about half are complaining about things tat are nothing to do with the product (delivery, say) or are because they didn’t actually read the specifications.

I don’t want to spend hours looking for the best item from a field of almost-clones and the most reliable supplier from a field where a good proportion appear to want to maximise profits at the expense of customers and/or employees. I definitely don’t want to be doing this all over again in a couple of years because of built-in obsolescence.

Has it always been like this? Have most companies in the past been trying to rip us off at every opportunity? I really don’t think so. Firms used to pride themselves on their reputation, on being reliable. Now, even when you find one like that, you have no guarantee that it still will be five years down the road as so many seem to be taken over my more unscrupulous competitors.

I’m tired of it. I don’t want to haggle. I don’t want to transfer to get the best deal. I don’t want to have to clear cookies to make sure I get the cheapest price. I just want to go back to having products/services/tradesmen who charge a fair price for a decent service or product.

Is that really too much to ask?

 


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Competition or Co-operation?

Last night, I had a dream.

Doesn’t that make you shudder at the start of a blog? But don’t worry. This isn’t going to be a detailed description of my weird and wonderful dreams. I don’t really have those. This is just what triggered my current musings.

In this dream I was in a strange place; some kind of academic institution I think. (My dreams often include a return to places like this. I think it signals a not very hidden desire to learn something new.) Still, I digress. The noticeable feature of the dream was that I was welcomed and everybody tried to help me find my way and were supportive of what I was doing. This is a good dream. When I was teaching, and to be fair, in previous jobs though to a lesser extent, my dreams were similar in location but very different in tone. I found situations and people frustrating and obstructive, I had a goal, a destination and I was constantly being prevented from getting there in various ways; thwarted at every turn. I assume this is because it was what was constantly happening in real life. I knew what I wanted to do and what was needed, but was prevented from doing it by circumstance (and to be honest often by individuals) I fought against this, and succeeded to some extent for several years but was eventually beaten into submission when a combination of circumstances at home and at work meant I had no more energy to fight.

I’m generally an optimistic kind of person. I don’t give up easily and although I actually try to expect the worst because that way you’re less likely to be disappointed, in fact I don’t do that. I still have a secret core that believes things will turn out for the best. I can find a positive in bad things that have happened and regard setbacks as an opportunity to develop rather than as an end.

But…

Just now I’m struggling to do that. There have been blogs (such as this from Sue Cowley which caused a flurry of comments both pro & con) and comments (for example this conversation ) again recently about the macho language now being used, especially noticeable in education.  (I’ve also just come across this which is making a similar point.)

But it’s not just the language that’s becoming hard and ultimately competitive. It’s actions. Look at the way exams are now graded “to prevent grade inflation”. We’re heading back to norm referencing. Not only in A levels and GCSEs (as far as I can tell) but also in SATs results. I think the fact that “pass marks” are not being published until papers are in is a hint there. ( I suspect this is what Michael Gove was really talking about when he made the all schools can be above average remark) The actual quote from the education select committee

Q98 Chair: One is: if “good” requires pupil performance to exceed the national average, and if all schools must be good, how is this mathematically possible?

Michael Gove: By getting better all the time.

Q99 Chair: So it is possible, is it?

Michael Gove: It is possible to get better all the time.

What he wanted was for all schools to compete to be in the right hand side of the bell curve. And Ofsted had already been doing this for years by only classifying schools as *Good* if they were above average. This is all well and good if schools, teachers and pupils are not then castigated for not being good. And, ultimately, it means that you can only improve at someone else’s expense.

Today, this was again illustrated beautifully by our own dear SMW. First he criticised a local authority being the “worst performing region in the country“. Well, if you rank regions, schools, children, some will inevitably be the worst, whatever the overall standard. Next he claimed children are nor making enough progress after primary school (Odd since the government is currently claiming it’s primary schools who aren’t doing well enough and are hiking up the expected levels) and is reasoning that because of this we should re-introduce KS3 tests.

Last year, 68% of non-selective secondary school pupils who achieved a level 5 or above (which is significantly above average) in English and maths at the end of primary school failed to attain either an A* or A in these subjects at GCSE; 27% failed to achieve the minimum expected progress, a grade B.

Now, I don’t know the details of this, but I do know that to avoid grade inflation GCSE grades are pegged Jack Marwood knows much more and if he calls foul, I trust him.

The part that really worries me now it that this is not just in education, or even just in the workplace. It’s everywhere. The far right narrative which is currently in vogue seems to want to rank everything and everybody then specifically praise those who succeed at the expense of others.

Does everything need to be about competition rather than co-operation? Do we have to divide schools, the country, the world into them and us? Does your success have to come at someone else’s expense? Is co-operation a dirty word?


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Do you explain, or just tell?

I got annoyed today. I get annoyed quite often really. There is a pattern to the things that annoy me. It’s acts of selfishness or thoughtlessness for which I cannot imagine any mitigation.

  • Cars that park on double yellow lines and cause long queues of traffic. As far as I can tell, usually so someone can go in a shop without the inconvenience of walking ten metres from somewhere it is safe and legal to park.
  • Finding someone has bunged a bag of rubbish in your bin leaving not enough room for the  two full sacks you need to put in (actually what triggered this blog).
  • Noisy smelly barbecues that mean you cannot leave your windows open or your washing out on warm Summer evenings (fingers crossed eh?).

If there is a good reason for inconveniencing me, I can live with it.

  • An elderly mother recovering from a broken leg needed to call in to buy some wool.
  • You were clearing out your cupboards and thought I was away for the week so you could use the space in my bin.
  • Sorry. No excuse for barbecues but you should at least warn neighbours!

What I’m building up to here is a plea for thoughtfulness and a bit of consideration, obviously, life would be smoother if we were all a bit nicer, but also, if you are going to do something that is potentially annoying, tell the person you may annoy why you are doing it. Don’t assume it wont bother them. Don’t assume it doesn’t matter.

And if you’re a teacher, explain rules, especially those that seem initially pointless to the students. They won’t all be convinced, but there will be some, who were initially resentful who will have second thoughts and cooperate rather than sullenly comply.

I know there are many teachers who feel no desire to “justify” themselves to students. They believe fact that something is a rule and the teacher is in charge is enough. I have some sympathy with that desire. It would make life so much easier. Maybe my problem is that I identify too much with the kids. I can remember getting cross at pointless annoying rules. But I still think cooperation is preferable to sullen resentment. Just try it. You may be pleasantly surprised.