Bang goes the theory that I could be a social worker.

Bang goes the theory I could be a social worker.

This morning I spent the precious two and a bit hours when my son is at preschool, sat at St Bees, finishing this book and greeting. I’d found the first half of the book so-so but the last few days I have been sneaking in as much reading time as possible. Much to the detriment of the state of my house and me and my family’s diet. I’m making amends now. Also the Kindle is out of juice, so for the sake of myself, my poor husband, (yes I did fetch it out of my coat pocket during the interval at the opera on Sunday night), and my lovely, slightly malnourished children, I am not going to recharge it until I have got a handle on my household. It will be tidy and meals, (proper meals with vegetables and everything), will be planned and bought for. Then I will plan my next read.

So what made me sink to such lows? The main answer would be the Weedon family. Not that I was modelling their lifestyle in the same way that some social commentators think that watching video nasties turns one into a serial killer, no. I think it was the glimpses into their chaotic and sad lives that hooked me in and made me worry for them and ultimately kept me reading the first few chapters of the book.

We’ve been house hunting too whilst I’ve been reading this and unsurprisingly the class issues of various villages and areas kept playing through my head a la Pagford vs The Fields as we would stumble upon a house that wasn’t ideally suited to us but was in a desirable middle-class village with, say, a group that organises coach trips to Carlisle’s classical music concerts. Someone else snapped it up. Sigh. Of relief?

So the moral of the story in ‘The Casual Vacancy’? Perhaps, I would argue, it is that politics is dangerous. But that’s not fair on Rowling. Really, the danger lies with egos and lack of concern for one another. So do fight for what you believe is right, but smile and look wide and when you think you’ve looked wide, look wider still. (B-P).

Opera

This Sunday, in between all the diversionary tactics of avoiding packing the house for an imminent house move,  I took my husband to see Robin Norton-Hale’s modern version of La Boheme: his first ever opera. We sat there and strained to make out the words and laughed at some of the jokes we could distinguish, and watched politely and when the lights came up for the interval I turned to him and said (in a Little-Britain-esque voice) ” Ah don’ like it.”

Nevertheless we ate our cheap, ersatz cornettos (60p each – this is the Carnegie in Workington, not the ENO) during the interval and soaked-in the culture and tragedy of the second half. I did not shed a unitary tear. On the walk back to the car I mentioned this fact to hubby and compared my emotional reaction to La Boheme with a performance we had happened to catch earlier that day, again in Workington, before the Rugby match, (I’ll explain later). This earlier performance was street-theatre (or opera), and comprised four individuals: two of whom I recognised as locals, the others drafted-in, I guess; wearing outsized puppet torsos and microphones. They paraded into the hub of Workington, which has a rather special sound system, and then began a twenty minute performance of love-expressed, love-lost and love-regained, using well-known arias and ditties from various pieces of opera. As the first performer sang to the backing music I started crying and didn’t stop until that piece had finished. I found it interesting that this, shorter, perhaps ‘inferior’ performance (no Olivier awards were won for *that*), had moved me in a way that the nationally renowned, imported variety had failed to do.

I’ve since looked up the history of La Boheme on and when reading the story I *was* moved and realised that it was the transition to a modern setting that had scuppered its ability to resonate with me. Had this opera been set in nineteenth century Paris and referenced the lack of matches (rather than lack of change for the meter) and Mimi being a seamstress (rather than an etsy-esque badge-maker) and Mimi needing funds in a non-NHS society (rather than her dying in 21st century Workington from consumption), I think my heartstrings would have been pulled more effectively. It was cleverly adapted, but the cleverness is only apparent when you know what aspects of the libretto the performance is referencing.

Had I done more research it could be argued that I might have had a more fulfilling experience. Thing is, this is West Cumbria. It was a form of art and culture that is rarely accessible round here. I had to go to try it out, and sadly “Ah didn’t like it.”

NB – Both bits of opera were put on in Workington as part of the Rugby World Cup’s cultural programme. Workington hosted two Scotland games, and it was a great boost for the area. It was my first experience of live Rugby league and I reckon it won’t be my last.

England is crap. It’s official.

'The Wave' Whitehaven Harbour

It’s been an angry evening for the King couple. We’re despairing at the state of our little nation and hoping that Scotland gain independence so that we can cede from England and go and join the ‘North Country’. What’s irked us especially? Well there’s the seemingly imminent privatisation of Royal Mail, which will undoubtedly make the service more expensive and also it gives the floated Royal Mail an excuse not to bother giving us rural, out of the way bits of the populace, as good a service as the ‘real’, ‘proper’ bods in London. I grant you, this is something that becoming part of Scotland wouldn’t alter, but nevertheless it sucks. It sucks, but it’s not life-threatening or a total ball-ache.

Unlike the second item of news that wound us up ce soir, and that is the reporting in the Whitehaven News that the local hospital, the West Cumberland Hospital, (WCH) is going to lose its out of hours surgery. So at weekends or after 6pm on a weekday, if you need complicated surgery, you will be sent by ambulance along a crappy, largely single carriageway ‘A’ road for an hour to Carlisle. This road has had 595 collisions since 2008, (bit spooky that statistic, as it’s the A595. Not sure I trust it. Source: Whitehaven News), so it’s not the safest road in the country. This of course impacts on the A&E expertise at WCH and also the consultant-led maternity unit. Both of these were ‘safeguarded’ after the lengthy and hard-won ‘Closer to Home’ consultation back in 2008.

Now, I know it’s hard luck and all the rest, but it really does feel as though we in West Cumbria are being shat upon mightily, and I feel it’s not personal. The Tory-led government just doesn’t get ‘The Regions’. Why don’t we all move to the south east to ensure we get decent hospital provision, (and decent secondary schools for that matter)? We must be somehow deficient in intelligence if we haven’t managed to secure a career in London, so it must be our fault that we’re stuck in the sticks with crap services, and deserve whatever comes to us.

Well I’m sorry, but this country is, (or at least used to be) more than the financial sector of the South East. Last time I looked, most food was produced in rural areas. My husband works to ensure that the nuclear facilities at Sellafield are operated safely, and he is obviously not the only one. This week, the Whitehaven News has announced the renewed rigmarole of trying to establish a Nuclear Waste Respository in the area. So, hey, we’re doing useful stuff. Surely we deserve decent services? No. It seems not. Why should professionals move here to help service the nuclear industry when they could be working at Warrington, Oxford or Caithness (!)?

Oh and not enough houses can be built in the South East at the moment. And there aren’t enough primary school places. Well ‘Hello!’, we have cheap housing and school places aplenty. So wouldn’t it make sense to encourage businesses out of the South East and regenerate the regions? Oh no. You got rid of the Regional Development Agencies, didn’t you? Numbnuts.

Story vs Storyteller, or the Sorry Sequel.

Book for bookclub: check.

Library book: nearly finished

Unread books on my buckling shelves: yup.

I’m fifty-two pages from the end of my current book, so as sure as a Lib Dem MP supports a disgraced colleague, my mind is chewing over what to read next. There’s plenty to choose from, including books seven and eight of Harry Potter; the penultimate and final books from the Millennium trilogy; and Mantel’s ‘Bring up the Bodies’. All this begged the question: why haven’t I tackled these sequels sooner?

I thought about this yesterday and came to the conclusion that I read in order to experience ‘slices of life’. I’m not a one-genre girl and my mantra could well be ‘So many books, so little time’, and with this in mind, why waste precious time further delving into a specific author’s specific creation? The answer of course is the story. I should want to read book two because the story of book one was so enthralling that I don’t want it to end. This very rarely happens with me. What is more likely is that if I enjoy a book, I will seek out a book by a different author in the same genre, or from the same era or same country in order to develop depth and widen my experiences: the sequel can wait. And so these poor follow-ups, as good as they no doubt are, are left on the shelf whilst whim, fancy and the joy of discovery override story and they languish on my tight shelves alongside the Hunger Games trilogy and Alexander McCall Smith.

So what WILL I read next? Perhaps I should make a final attempt to finish ‘Pickwick Papers’. Alternatively I have plenty of whimsy on my Kindle too. So many books, so many formats, so, so little time.Image

The future of the future of A level students.

Ah Gove. Mister Michael Gove. The Right Honourable Michael Gove. This is a Conservative Cabinet member who the Guardian today reckoned was one of the rising stars of the party, and this makes me shudder. 

He is a man who seems bent on reforming the state education system towards something resembling a nineteen sixties grammar school. One where university education was the reserve for the academically gifted, (but free) and where the non-academic pupils were catered for by secondary modern and secondary technical schools. Of course now nearly fifty percent of pupils go to University and it certainly isn’t free and there is no special provision for those who are not academically gifted.

Today there are a good few handful of grammar schools still in existence: flourishing and keeping local economies (and house prices) buoyant, and I had the experience of attending one for a little over two years as a youngster in Bournemouth. In the latest league tables of GCSE results ninety-nine percent of its pupils attained A*- C grades. At my local comprehensive in the town I now live in that figure is in the mid forty percents. Why? because this school does not select its pupils and has no great culture of academic aspiration. It has a nuclear facility on its doorstep that provides well-paid jobs regardless of whether you are a graduate or not and so there simply is not the emphasis to go and learn for the mere sake of it. When I went to Kenya in 1998 I visited a girls secondary school and saw a list of A level results. The girls had done well, but the only A levels on offer to them were science, maths and english. At the time I felt sad that those with a love of the arts were being funnelled into different directions, but since graduating with an arts degree and marrying a chemical engineer, I am more fully aware of the benefits of science degrees when it comes to making a living. What good is an education for its own sake if it costs you time and money and gives you little return financially?

Of course, it is wrong of me to assume that schools with good league table positions are encouraging further education for its own sake. Of course they aren’t. Not since the Russell Group of Universities declared its list of ‘facilitating subjects’ in 2011, which has since been latched onto by league table manipulators/setters/policy people. Yes now exam league tables rank schools by the percentage of pupils with two A grades and a B at A-level in facilitating subjects – which exclude subjects including Religious Studies, Music, Art, Economics, Design and Technology, Philosophy, Politics and Theatre Studies. It was always common sense that if one wanted to apply to Cambridge to study PPE, then A levels in Photography, Psychology and Media Studies probably wouldn’t cut the mustard, but to have this formalised into league-tables is going to affect more than the individual pupil and his/her future.  

Yet even some of the facilitating subjects aren’t secure under Gove’s helm. I read recently that Historians are worried that the abolition of AS levels are going to discourage students from picking the subject at sixteen, (as they will be in it for the whole two year slog) and this in turn will affect the uptake of History at age fourteen. As a History and English graduate, part of me thinks this is Historians trying to justify their jobs, turkeys not voting for Christmas if you will, but maybe they are onto something. 

So maybe in three or four years’ time students will be leaving prestige secondary schools with A levels in the sciences, maths, english and to a lesser extent, languages and geography/ history. What is going to happen to Music and Art departments in schools across the land? Hopefully they will not vanish altogether. For instance I can see them staying on vestigially in independent schools who have such a large curriculum to fill (all that prep and Saturday morning study), but as for state schools like my local school, I really don’t know. I would hope they might put a finger up to the league tables and accept that they are going to be scoring badly when assessed on ‘facilitating subjects’ and continue to fund their less academic, yet economically useful, subjects. And therein lies the crux of the matter. Funding. 

 

 

Numbers

Yesterday I had a dental appointment that I was quite looking forward to. It turned into root canal treatment with (at first) insufficient anaesthetic. I’m not looking back fondly on the appointment now.

Apart from the clenched hands, rolling tears and closed eyes, what was going on with me? Prime numbers. Yes, dear reader, I got through the ordeal by thinking of prime numbers and I got as far as 601. The allure of the prime number has only struck me in later years. I didn’t enjoy maths as a youngster and ditched it as soon as possible, so thinking about numbers isn’t something I normally do, which is perhaps a good thing. I don’t mind prime numbers being associated with excruciating and expensive pain.

So…. 601- mental pinnacle of the treatment; 71 minutes – the duration of the treatment; £321 – the cost of the treatment. I also got to 77% of my reading book last night (Life and Fate) and got up to episode 4 of series 3 of Breaking Bad.

Oh, and 45 minutes waiting for a friend who failed to turn up for badminton (£4.20 – which was kindly refunded).

 

 

 

White Rabbits. My day in reverse

So this evening I have emptied three (I think) bags of Guide paperwork dating back from 2008. The purging is good and I am seventy pence richer than I was, and I do wonder why I never did it before. Och well, am on the case now. Watched Charlie Brooker’s 2012 wipe and had a good, hearty chuckle. 

This afternoon we set off to Dodds Wood near Bassenthwaite lake for a bit of a climb. It rained all the way there, and I was bemoaning our late set-off as the morning had been glorious (exaggeration alert. The sun had been shining.) As ever, it wasn’t as bad out of the car as it seemed to be from the cosseted heated interior and we had a good two and a half hour climb. Didn’t quite make the summit, but one to try again in the summer without the three-wheeler. No photos today.

No reading done. Still ploughing through “Life and Fate”. Eaten too many biscuits and too many champagne truffles, but no alcohol this evening. Not in bed as early as I’d like, but it could be worse. Here’s looking forward to tomorrow. 

 

First Post and yes, it’s a cheesy meme

Sarah’s Challenges

1. What book might you re-read in 2013? – I quite fancy having a stab at “Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4” I first read this as a teenager and am sure I’ll get more out of it as an adult.

 2. What local event made you proud of your community? – We went to a couple of ‘Lakes Alive’ events, but especially one called the Banquet at Cleator Moor which involved food, acrobats, storytellers and all sorts of cabaret. Then there’s the Olympics of course.

3. Do you have any reading challenges for 2013?  I liked my friend’s attempt at reading 12 books from her shelves in 2012, so that might be a good one. The downside of the Kindle is that I now have the equivalent to a charity-shop book-buying habit, and my TBR piles both in real life and digitally are massive. I would like to finish some series, namely the last two Harry Potters, and the last two Millennium books.

4. Do you have any creative resolutions/challenges for 2013? – Yes, I think I will try and post on here more once a week and comment meaningfully on comments left by friends. I might try and keep a diary but that always falls to the wayside.

5. Any housekeeping/domestic challenges/resolutions? – Try and continue to declutter and make a deadline for getting the house on the market.

6 . Facebook. Whatcha gonna do about it?! – Stay but perhaps create more filters and definitely visit less frequently.

7. What physical challenges do you have in mind for 2013? Well, I would like to do at least 30 mins exercise each day, ideally 60 mins. Also to resume badminton on a Friday night and to get out for a decent walk in the fells with the boys at the weekend. And to finish the Hadrian’s Wall walk we began in 2011.

8. What personal attribute would you like to improve upon? Patience

9. What will be your tipple of choice this New Year’s Eve? Waggle Dance beer then bubbly.

10. Who do you wish you were seeing the New Year in with? My brother.