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Blogging about things that matter to me. Photographing things I love - Instagram @debcyork. Writing about both. Only wine and chocolate can save us… You can also find me on Twitter (@debcyork) and Facebook. If you like four-legged views, try @missbonniedog on Twitter

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Big Read

Not managed a proper post this week.  Not that there isn't plenty to talk about.  There is just not plenty of time in the day!  However, I did just want to recommend something.  In York this autumn, we have something called The Big Read.  The library people have organised these before - getting lots of free copies of a book and doing events based around its themes.
However, next week, the 2016 Big Read opens and they have chosen Renegeration by Pat Barker.  It is the first of a trilogy and is about the First World War.  It is not a new book but it is a wonderful book.  If you are a York reader of this blog, copies of the book are available from our libraries from 5 October.  The many events are already booking though - including a couple of visits from Pat Barker herself.
And if you are not in York, I highly recommend, in these days of 'the big society' having to run its own libraries, such an event.  Every museum and many organisations in the city are contributing and it promises to be a fantastic event.
With a thread true to the heart of this blog, they are also taking the opportunity to look at modern links to the themes of Regeneration, such as mental well-being.

Monday, 19 September 2016

The One with the Cultural Legacies

My children have discovered Friends.  Showing every evening on our holiday, it was great to revisit much loved episodes.  Apart from the occasional fashion issue or the distinct lack of technology to assist (or not) the characters' relationships, I think the shows' content has really stood the test of time.  They just make me laugh every time.  And the kids loved it.

This sharing of my loves has not always worked with the children.  Some things just don't work for succeeding generations.  The Bagpuss (above!) and Clangers DVDs gathering dust on my shelf are testament to this.  Books have not gone how I would have liked either.  Try as I might, I cannot pass on my love of 'classics' like Little Women, Treasure Island etc.  My son reads futuristic adventures like The Hunger Games.  My daughter loves Jacqueline Wilson at the moment.  They did both read some Enid Blyton in the past but not avidly.  Harry Potter has been actually the one series we definitely have in common.  Except of course I first read the books as an adult. 

So how are 'classics' decided?  How many generations have to adopt and love something before it is a 'classic'?  These days we refer to 'classic comedy', for example.  But mostly this means stuff from the Sixties and Seventies.  Is it measured by number of re-runs, number of awards?  Or by generational fanbase?  The Morecombe and Wise Show could be shown to every preceding and following generation and they would all 'get it'.  Well, once you had explained television to the preceding ones obviously.  Is it therefore the themes which constitute a classic?  A love story, a slapstick comedy, a war epic.  All understandable for hundreds of years, no matter what the fashions.

What about all the other stuff?  The books and shows which haven't really stood as classics but in their time were loved and admired.  Hundreds of books were written in the nineteenth century but sometimes you could be forgiven for thinking there were only a relatively few authors around.  Thousands of plays have been written.  Many rarely get a second outing.  Some forms of entertainment enjoyed by our ancestors have vanished forever.  Unless we have access to diaries or letters (sadly unlikely in most cases), we cannot have a rounded idea of what made our ancestors tick.  People should be required to leave recommended - and honest - reading/listening/viewing lists with their wills, maybe.  (In Friends, Rachel claims her favourite film is Dangerous Liaisons.  Her actual favourite is Weekend at Bernie's.  That kind of honesty...!)

On a related note, in the last week there has been a furore about changes to the Great British Bake Off.  Now, I do love the show but I don't believe it will be a classic.  We will not be watching its repeats in ten years time.  I think the more important things to take from the GBBO fuss are the further whittling away of the BBC's resources and the very creditable refusal of presenters Mel and Sue to change channels with the show.  It is a pity, though, that we can't better use the energy expended on outrage over television programmes, Z-list celebrities or random YouTube videos.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Unequal Opportunities

This week, whilst considering the reignited grammar school debate, I recalled my O Level project about education in my home town, Nuneaton - from 1870s church schools to the 1902 Education Act, standardising the various school boards.  The 1944 Act, reforming secondary education and introducing the 'tri-partite system' so much back in discussion now - grammar, secondary modern and technical schools.  And finally, in 1965 the Labour government instructing local authorities to begin converting from the tri-partite to comprehensives.  A policy decision inherited by, of all people, Margaret Thatcher as Education Secretary in the early 1970s.  She opposed comprehensives but it was too late to change most authorities' plans.

The picture above shows King Edward VI College (as it is now called) in Nuneaton.  It began as one of many colleges established by Edward VI and survived as a fee paying boys' school right up until the 1944 Act.  It had been called King Edward Sixth Grammar School since the 1880s but from 1944, it was selection rather than fees which decided its entrants.  Then, in 1974, as part of the process which so outraged Thatcher, King Edward VI Grammar School closed.  It re-opened as a co-ed sixth form college.  I graced its doors in 1987 as a sixth former  but it was still referred to as 'KEGS' by everyone in the town - ie the grammar school.  A little piece of history surviving endless change.

I do not agree with grammar schools.  I do not think any child should have their life choices affected so definitively at age eleven. 

My own children are each very different in outlook.  I am sure they will both achieve excellent results in the end but I think it will take the youngest longer to knuckle down.  She is is Year 6 now though.  SATs year.  Or Eleven Plus year.  And I do not think she would be a candidate for a grammar place as things stand at the moment, which would mean a very different path for her life, for her self esteem if her brother had reached the grammar, and so on, ad infinitum.

My own comprehensive experience was, it has to be said, greatly enhanced by streaming.  But there was opportunity for all and fluidity based on ability.  Total division at eleven does not allow for differences of development or personality.  A piece I read this morning said that in the previous post-1944 system, grammar places accounted for 15-25% of secondary places, depending on location.  If competition was considered to be fierce for places back in the 1950s, can you imagine what it would be like now?  The tutors, the pressure, the backbiting over who got in, the social exclusion issues. To say nothing of the social media backlash amongst children and their parents!  It is bad enough now with catchment issues in so many areas.
And what of the thousands of children without parental backing?  Or with backing but no resources?  My maternal grandfather was the first in his family to go to university.  An immense achievement in the 1930s and very unusual for a son of a railwayman.  It is a credit to the current system that his story would not be so unusual today.
Our schools are not perfect.  What institution is?  But we have made great strides, as the history of Nuneaton and KEGS shows.  From education for fee-paying males only to education for all.  Just thinking about the millions which will be wasted on these plans through public enquiries, civil service overtime and council battles makes me angry, let alone the actual proposals.  And as the incredibly brief one-town rundown above shows, the changes, if passed, will take years to implement.  We do not need grammar schools.  We need resources for our existing schools.  Unfortunately we are supposed to be planning how to compete in a 'post-Brexit world', aren't we?

Monday, 5 September 2016

Coatigans and Assumptions

Back on track after holiday.  At last.  Apologies for lack of posts for last two Mondays - between jet lag and then camping, neither Monday was very productive!

Anyway, yesterday I read an article in the Sunday Times Style Magazine.  It was called 'Are You Coatigan Woman?' and discussed the apparent 'rise' of the 'coatigan'.  A coat shaped/style of cardigan.  (Fairly self explanatory really.)

However, the journalist, Laura Craik, used the article mainly to poke fun at the kind of person who might wear such a garment.  It culminated in a list entitled 'You are coatigan woman if...'.  Now, one tries not to take such articles too seriously.  Even if they do feel a little close to home - the list included '...if you can't wait for Poldark tonight'.  Definitely me yesterday.  Hence excuse for gratuitous picture above.)

But the tone of the piece did anger me.  Why should any ordinary person be judged by a fashion journalist?  Fashion magazines are there to show us mortals the way, yes.  But was it necessary to make such statements as 'those who worship at the coatigan's drab beige feet are united less by age or demographic than by outlook' followed by another unworthy list?

We are all guilty of assumptions.  We make daily judgements on how people look, what they might be thinking, how they behave.  The Brexit result was the hideously spectacular result of many completely wrong assumptions about people's thoughts and behaviour.

And everyday that we blithely watch - with increasingly thick skins - the continuing chaos of the refugee crisis, we are making assumptions about the people who are trying to get to Europe.  We are told - or assume - many are criminals or terrorists.  Or 'economic migrants' after our jobs and our lifestyles and leaving perfectly reasonable lives behind.  We begin to believe they risk their children's lives on the Mediterranean because they are irresponsible - when actually they're at their wits' end.

When we look at our own family histories, assumptions are not a new phenomenon.  They are unfortunately a human trait.  And in writing your family history, you are continually making assumptions about people's actions in order to make some sense of the scant information you can glean from official records.  My ancestor who joined the army in 1804 and went to India gave his occupation as 'staymaker'.  I could assume he was a patriot who decided to fight.  More likely, he was in trouble with the law or destitute or even conned into signing up by a sergeant who got him drunk.

My descendants might look at photos of me and assume I was a badly dressed would-be writer who clearly ate quite a lot of cake.  Except for winter 2016/17 photos though!  Because I will be Coatigan Woman.  Yes, after reading the article, I held my head high and proudly purchased said item that very afternoon (that's how cross I was).  From Warehouse - proclaimed by the very same magazine having been 'transformed' this season.  I quote their assumption: 'you'll love this'.