Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Familiar faces

We had a Book Group Christmas get together on Monday evening and it was a really good evening and oddly comforting, in a way I didn't expect.  One of the joys of the evening was spending time in the company of familiar friendly faces, which made me realise that I had been missing that aspect of daily life in the routine of journey, work, journey, B husband and children.  I miss my friends.   Which makes my existence over these 3 weeks or so sound a bit miserable, which it hasn't; just a bit intense I suppose.  But that's inevitable and is why I wish, I wish I could fast-forward 3 months or so when everything and everyone is more familiar.    Not that I want them to be my friends, at least I don't expect that to happen. 

Some other random realisations in no particular order:-
  • As a Solicitor and mother/woman in her forties, I am no longer part of the 'young' crowd at work;
  • Staff Christmas parties are therefore to be endured rather than enjoyed;
  • My age shows in my degree of sartorial formality;
  • I may have fussed a bit too much about the clothes before I started;
  • Apart from the gnawing insecurity, (whisper it) I think I am enjoying the challenge;
  • Marks & Spencer, Moorgate is offering joints of Lamb & Beef half-price (and BM loves a bargain)  
  • I need a cleaner/wife
So back to book group - well, we are evolving, but then that's life I suppose, nothing stands still - it's either going backwards or forwards and I know which one I want.

More thoughts from the frontline to follow.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Just visiting

So I am nearly at the end of my first 2 weeks of full-time employment in 6 years but more of that another time.  No, what I would like to share with you now is one of the downsides I suppose of occupying any house which is over 150 years old.

I should begin by saying that I am something of a creature of habit.  I like tea first thing before anything else, coffee later on.  I like being first one up in the morning and I especially like being alone in the kitchen with the radio on, in that short time space before the children wake up.

Over the past 12 days or so of adjusting to employment again, I have used these precious minutes to take stock, plan (as much as possible) my day ahead and enjoy the peace.   Until today...

You see we now have some new, rather famous neighbours (yes, even more famous than Lionel!) and they have set about re-plastering and goodness knows what else to the house.  Not a problem you might think since the workmen don't arrive before 8am.  But they are not the problem, in fact I'm delighted that they are having the work done. 

No, it's something else.  We are semi-attached and I suspect share common underfloor spaces and possibly also roof spaces although I can't be sure of that since I have never been up in the loft.   Not to put too fine a point on it:  Mr (and I suspect Mrs and the children) Mouse have packed their bags and moved into ours.    We met this morning shortly after I switched on the lights in the kitchen.  They seemed to have been having some sort of meeting in the middle of the kitchen floor - no doubt concerning their new accommodation.

Having spent a not inconsiderable sum over the years on pest eradication, I am gloomy about the prospects of shared co-habitation.  It won't work because I now know too much about their hygiene habits, reproduction etc.  But the memory of the smell of decomposing mouse/several probably, under our floorboards is also still fresh.  If we call in the experts again, the Mouse family will simply head on back next door for a while I suppose.

I suspect I may have to broach the subject of a joint instruction (with new famous people).  It's not what I had in mind when I pictured our conversations over Christmas drinks.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

That's entertainment

Like a good percentage of the population, BM and family are fans of Saturday (and now Sunday) evening TV staples, "Stricly Come Dancing" and "X Factor".  Although we can claim to have been early adopters of SCD, we are what can only be described as Johnny-come-latelies to the XF, having started watching at the beginning of the '09 season.     We have actively ignored the other viewing phenomenon that is "I'm a Celebrity..." on the basis that it's little more than licensed bullying, despite the proviso that the victims are (a) celebrities and (b) volunteered.   I wish I lived in a world where IACGMOOH didn't exist but it does and who knows, maybe it distracts the many milliions who enjoy it from other serious problems.  But to my squeamish conscience, what I have seen feels a bit too much like a form of Roman entertainment (and I don't mean La Dolce Vita).  

So I at least, have enjoyed SCD for the simple things -  the spangly dresses and sequins, fake tan, campness,  innuendo of the judging panel and Brucie as well as the acceptable levels of sex for teatime viewing (I give you the Argentine tango...)  But what with John Sergeant and now Ann Widdecombe, it's starting to make me feel a bit queasy...people seem to be voting for her, in order to see her further humiliate herself for our entertainment.  It's as if we grew tired of simply watching people learn to dance, improve, compete and ultimately, win.    But what's wrong with just keeping it simple, I mean isn't the rest of life just complicated enough?

As for XF, in this household we watch on the basis that it is all ultimately controlled by Mr Cowell and I suspect he will contrive a result which best suits his purposes this year, as every other year.   He thinks it's time a group won, so this year his group will almost certainly get to the final.     The internet campaign for Wagner has failed to derail the Cowell project but now that Wagner and Katie (again, more cruelty as entertainment...) are out, so far as the BM household is concerned, it's Matt to win!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Friday, 19 November 2010

Romantic Ireland's dead and gone...

Robert Peston may not be a poet so much as the herald of bad news but he invariably gets it right.  Not just in the blog post yesterday but also earlier on the Today programme when he explained that Ireland's government bailout of the banks 2 years ago, meant a whopping £110bn loan from the ECB, an amount greater than the total value of the Irish economy.  Since then, the economic slowdown, reduced government tax receipts and increased welfare payments has led to the current crisis.  

Trouble is, for ex-pats like me it has long been a mystery how Ireland could sustain in the best of times, not to mention the past 2 years, a welfare benefit system which saw Jobseekers Allowance paid at a rate of £196 Euros per week, + £130 with a dependent spouse + £29 per each dependent child - by UK standards these amounts are astonishing.   In the good times, those rates as well as those for Child Benefit and Pensions  were admirable, signs of a society willing to share success with those less fortunate.    Except that the 'success' was an illusion or more accurately, a mass delusion which saw ordinary homes in relatively rural areas valued at London prices and middle income families, investing in second homes to rent (to whom, I often wondered).    Top that with the low tax rates which everyone enjoyed particularly those who decided it was more prudent to be self-employed on an incorporated basis and pay only 12% corporation tax and it becomes clear how badly things can go wrong when the easy money dried up.  

Well, someone a couple of years back shouted out that the Emperor had no clothes and suddenly everyone woke up.   Ireland like many post-industrial countries does not produce enough and unlike say, Britain is relatively low in the natural resources which matter, like oil and gas.     

Some will say it was good while it lasted; others blame the politicians (always a safe bet, although isn't the electorate responsible for the politicians they elect? ) but the truth is that most people over 30 when this 'boom' started over 10 years ago, were wary and couldn't quite figure out where the wealth had come from and what was sustaining it.  

In many ways, BM suspects that the situation in the UK is worse; the tax threshold is already high, the level of welfare benefits paid relatively modest so there is little room for manoeuvre...at least Ireland has scope to cut further and raise taxes if necessary.  On the other hand Ireland did not enjoy anything like the investment in health and education that the UK has seen over the past 10 years or so. 

Personally, I never liked the brash 'loadsamoney' Ireland but that's not to say that I enjoy seeing it humbled in this way either.  And as the Irish Times (not previously known for its republican stance) put it today, to think that Ireland's struggle for independence over 200 years has led to this day.  All's changed.   

Friday, 12 November 2010

In praise of...Nigel of Bermondsey

Nigel of Bermondsey, in common with BM, is to Bermondsey what we in the west of Ireland used to call 'a blow-in'.   Not Bermondsey born and bred, he/we arrived in this corner of SE London roughly 10/15 years ago, loved it and stayed .  One of the reasons BM felt it entirely natural to stay and raise a family here despite the flight to the suburbs by contemporaries was because it felt like home.  I was welcomed here and not just because of B husband's (former) position.  It's a pretty striaghtforward sort of place; you make an effort to get involved with the community and they welcome you in.  Much the same I suspect as Nigel's experience of the place. 

Except that Nigel is a poet at heart and has taken this place to his heart.  He is an adopted Bermondsey Boy (no offence to Gary G)  who much like the minstrels of old Southwark, finds in music a way to celebrate and eulogise both its triumphs and disasters.   Because of this, Nigel has become an integral part of Bermondsey's continuously evolving fabric; he provides a bridge between the old and the new, his music offering a way for other 'blow-ins' to appreciate the rich history and heritage of the place in a modern context.   As well as gigging all over London and on the radio, Nigel's set is now a fixture in the annual Southwark Event.

BM is the proud possessor of his (2) albums to date...as well as the not yet released album entitled 'Bermondsey Folk'!  For what it's worth Nigel, I loved it.  Deeper than the others, I can sense the influence of John Constable and others within the local history movement and I loved how this is all woven together in a modern, gentle 'folk' way.  

Full disclosure:  BM and Nigel of Bermondsey are not related...however our spouses and sons share a fascination with Dr Who and stop-motion animation...

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Other hat

Governor's, that is.  The Sutton Trust have today published a report which is both depressing and familiar in which it sets out the current findings of an ongoing long term longitudinal study, of children born in the early 90s compared with children born in 2000, in this case dealing with behavioural issues. 

It's depressing because it shows that for those children born into the lowest income families, behavioural issues have actually got worse and familiar because the impact of problematic behaviour on curriculum outcomes is significant across every phase of schooling.  It has had a high priority in my particular school (necessarily in my view) because unless children know how to behave towards each other and the adults in the room, and how to manage and control their emotions properly, they cannot begin to learn and just as important, neither can anyone else in that room with them.

Nevertheless we have just had an Ofsted inspector comment that we should not lose sight of our other curriculum outcomes at the expense of PSED (Personal Social and Emotional Development) as it's known in the jargon.  We haven't, believe me, but as I say if a child cannot share, or wait and take his/her turn or hits out at another child in frustration, then no learning can take place in that room.   

Nationally this pattern of behaviour issues is also associated with poor attainment on entry to Primary school in CLL (Communication Language and Literacy).  It's hardly surprising when you think about it a little and equally, if successful intervention takes place which necessarily involves the child learning to verbally express their frustration as well as be polite ie say "Please" and "Thank you", the corollary is an improvement in CLL outcomes.  

Very often though, it is the parents who need support and whilst that might sound critical, it's not meant to be.  Parenting is hard: not just the daily monotonous grind of physically caring for young children but rather the realisation that it's a process, that they are not going to be beautifully behaved just because you tell them to.  It takes energy and consistency and young children are naturally programmed to test their boundaries.  Also they 'model' behaviour - in other words they copy what they see and observe rather than what they are told. 

How do we make parenting support and 'training' less judgmental, I wonder?   One ongoing project in Southwark, which I have mentioned before is EPEC (Empowering Parents, Empowering Communities).   But I think it would be facile to imagine that one single project could be the answer.   It takes a whole range of approaches and input from different agencies sometimes to reach a satisfactory outcome which is why I remain convinced that Children's Centres offering a range of support to children and their parents, are the best way to help all kinds of families achieve the best possible outcomes for their children.

Finding a (new) look

So it turns out that it's harder than BM expected to find the right sort of suit ie on the knee skirt (not mid-thigh), 33" inside leg trouser (not ankle-flapping) with jackets which nod shyly towards fashion instead of making a bold fashion statement.    I accept that it is possible to find such a wardrobe,  my difficulty is the matter of cost.  Because fairly predictably, the classic well-made, long-lasting, quality outfit costs...a fair bit. 

It was ever thus you might say and you would be right.  What has changed however, since BM's last shopping expedition for work clothing is the advent of mass online retailing...and discounting!   Which does make matters easier apart from the nuisance of having to arrange returns or queue at the post office.  To my mind this still trumps the hot, viciously-lit changing room of a department store any day.   

B Husband thinks I may be obsessing about the kit a tiny bit, although strangely every woman I talk to agrees about the importance of getting the appearance of competence right, at least for starters.  And as for actual competence, I'm off on a course tomorrow for a little refreshment/exercise/stretch of the brain muscle. 

Monday, 25 October 2010

Work

I dipped in and out of the coverage of the Pope's visit to Britain last month but one thing which stuck in my mind was a speech given by the Archbishop of Canterbury at a joint service at Westminster Abbey.  The Pope spoke too of course but what I remember most are these words spoken by the Archbishop:-

'Work is so often an anxious and obsessive matter, as if our whole value as human beings depended upon it; and so, consequently, unemployment, still a scourge and a threat in these uncertain financial times, comes to seem like a loss of dignity and meaning in life.



'We live in an age where there is a desperate need to recover the sense of the dignity of both labour and leisure and the necessity of a silent openness to God that allows our true character to grow and flourish by participating in an eternal love.'

I thought it one of the most profound and beautiful statements I have heard about the nature of humanity and human dignity in a long time.   I found myself thinking about those words quite a bit over the intervening weeks because the truth is that we do identify ourselves in terms of what we 'do'.   I remember that when I first arrived in London in 1987, being struck by how almost the first question people would ask about you was "and what do you do?" and one sensed very quickly that this is how your value as a person was judged.  Where I came from, it was considered bad manners to ask such a thing and even worse to volunteer the information.   In many ways, although they would have dismissed such a suggestion as nonsense, that level of civility was the essence of what we might now consider to be 'cool'.  

What I've been pondering is I suppose what Dr Williams was saying which is, if our whole identity is tied up in our work, what or who are we when that unexpectedly disappears?  And what happens if that event ie unemployment is repeated on a mass scale ?  

Maybe the scale of the measures announced last week as they become clear over the next few years and the consequent effect on the public services will mean that for instance the unpaid work done by the many volunteers up and down the country will be valued more, rather than ignored or worse, simply taken for granted .   

I'm not done with this yet...

Back in the game

A lot has happened over the past 10 days or so, perhaps the most significant development being my return to full-time employment...well, the certainty of it at any rate.  For now, I can plan the last few weeks of this life whilst preparing for something entirely different.

Although I have had serious crises of confidence about my ability to return to the fray/pitch (oops, losing the game metaphor now) I have nevertheless managed to persuade some very nice people in the City that I've still got it and what's more, they need me.    So phase 2, and my favourite part, will involve kit and more specifically, acquiring it.  A very good and wise friend of mine maintains that getting the kit right is more than half the battle, since it will not only give you confidence but also instill confidence in others. 

So that's the fun part.  The trickier issues will involve childcare, managing my voluntary commitments, some of which inevitably will have to go and I suppose ultimately it means altering the nature of my relationships including friendships.   It will be a process of change for all of us but I can honestly say that I am excited at the prospect. 

For now though, I'm going to focus on phase 2 as above and get shopping.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Bermondsey Banksy ctd.

So it seems that the owner of the building is responsible for the cover-up although what he plans to do with it is anyone's guess.  As ever, in their own inimitable way, the Simpsons in an intro written and designed by Banksy himself, sum it up:-



Wednesday, 13 October 2010

It's a cover-up!

What's happened to the Banksy ?  It's almost as if he has been wallpapered over.  And whodunnit?

Monday, 11 October 2010

Bermondsey Banksy?

First seen Saturday morning...in The Grange, SE1.  Official confirmation that it's the real deal here

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Close your eyes and listen...

Tom Waits, another neglected poet...


National Poetry Day

Classic avoidance strategy...lots of things going on right now, none of which would be helped by referring to them here.  Instead, as it's a day of poetry, I will share with you one of my favourite poems. 

Sonnet no.XXII by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

When our two souls stand up erect and strong,
Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,
Until the lengthening wings break into fire
At either curved point, - what bitter wrong
Can the earth do to us, that we should not long
Be here contented?  Think.  In mounting higher
The angels would press on us and aspire
To drop some golden orb of perfect song
Into our deep, dear silence.  Let us stay
Rather on earth, Beloved, - where the unfit
Contrarious moods of men recoil away
And isolate pure spirits, and permit
A place to stand and love in for a day,
With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Our generation's Dennis Healey moment?

B Husband predicted back in May that Ed would win.  The growing strength of the Unions as seen in the London local elections in May, with Labour re-gaining control of Southwark and several other inner London boroughs as well as strengthening their grip in places where they had a dismal record in public office such as Doncaster, were all portents of what was to come.  Then Ken Livingstone, (surely Banquo's ghost made flesh) wins the nomination for London and now Ed M wins - well, it's a clean sweep.      

As ever it's in the detail that the real story lies; for instance I had not understood that a Trades Union endorsement such as Ed M received from the Big Three (Unite, Unison & GMB) meant that only he and his team got the membership lists in order to canvas their support.  The other candidates were effectively denied access to a significant part of their constituency but this is perfectly legitimate and is where the real power of the Union bosses lies.  

Of course the Unions and indeed senior Labour figures now say, that individual trade union members vote however they like but if you only receive literature or contact from one candidate...well you can see what that would mean.  Same thing happened with the London nomination, where the Unions backed Ken over Oona King.

But back to The Brothers Miliband - one rather poignant detail which has been widely covered by the media was how upset David's wife was said to be about what has happened.  She, or sources close to her have also let it be known that on those occasions over the past 2 years or so, when he could have mounted a coup against Gordon Brown but didn't, it was Ed pleading with him on Brown's behalf and urging him to maintain party unity that stopped David from taking those opportunities.  Small wonder there is a profound sense of bitterness and betrayal in the David camp.

Given that he was the heir apparent and could have chosen to court the Union bosses, in my view it is to his enormous credit as a man (although perhaps not as a cynical politician) that David chose not to but instead appealed to the wider Labour constituency (and probably the country).

So what are we to make of Ed then?  I suspect that he feels no small sense of achievement in finally bettering his older brother, and emerging certainly with no one in any doubt about his ruthlessness or cynicism as a politician.  Given all of that, personally I thought it patronising in the extreme for him to say in his acceptance speech that he had never in his wildest imaginations, thought he would one day be leader of the Labour Party.    

Beyond that, I'm not entirely sure that he realises what he has done; what sort of Faustian pact the Unions believe has been made - even if he doesn't.  He is said to be keen to moderate his message and people who know him tell me that he is a social democrat but that's clearly not what the Unions think they have got.  How long before they test him ?

And now for something completely different

This blog is not defined by any geographical boundaries and so I give you this beautiful house, outside and in:-



It's called Ship House at no 1, Trafalgar Avenue just off the Old Kent Road and it's for sale.


Malini is happy to give tours and is passionate about the background and history of the house as well as its previous owners and occupants.  Have a look on the site where you will see her contact details.  Sadly it's way out of our (financial) league, but well worth a visit if only to gaze in admiration.
(All photos from shiphouse.com)

Update

Still here...well, just about anyway.  These things happened over the last 4 days:  Beautiful boy turned 10; following a successful interview on Tuesday, BM is up for 2nd round next week; Ofsted who have been conducting a 'three-way' inspection since Monday afternoon are still in the building but it finishes later today; slept for about 4 hours each night. 

I'm shattered, time for rest and reflection and then will commit thoughts to the blog on these events and others, including this generation's Dennis Healey moment.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Controlling capitalism

Vince Cable will make a speech today at the Lib Dem conference, says the Guardian, setting out clearly what he and the government plan to do to prevent another banking collapse and at the same time, prevent bankers and others in the financial services believing that their remuneration can escalate unchecked.  

It's often said that in the way that democracy is the least worst form of government, so capitalism is the least worst means of achieving relative prosperity for all.   And yet, the issues which are troubling Dr Cable now are not in any sense new.   My admiration (near worship actually) for all things John Lewis is hardly a secret so I think it's worth repeating the words of their founder, John Spedan Lewis reflecting on remuneration:-

"The present state of affairs is really a perversion of the proper working of capitalism. It is all wrong to have millionaires before you have ceased to have slums. Capitalism has done enormous good and suits human nature far too well to be given up as long as human nature remains the same. But the perversion has given us too unstable a society. Differences of reward must be large enough to induce people to do their best but the present differences are far too great.
"If we do not find some way of correcting that perversion of capitalism, our society will break down. We shall find ourselves back in some form of government without the consent of the governed, some form of police state.
"The dividends of some shareholders exceed their own highest hopes, hopes that may have been much too greedy, and the incomes of the more fortunate of the captains of industry are many times as great as would have caused the same persons to work just as hard and for just as many years if, instead of going into business, they had happened to become, say, lawyers or doctors. This is quite wrong."

He went on to build into the founding Partnership Trust deed an irrevocable ratio between the earnings of the lowest paid worker and the highest paid so that in his view, together with the co-ownership status of every employee or 'partner', there would remain an incentive to drive the business forward for the benefit of all.

Sadly not many other captains of industry see their duty to society as anything other than to make ever-increasing profit for their shareholders.  Pure unfettered capitalism after all, sees no social imperative.   Which is why I hope the Dr Cable's proposed regulations succeed.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

26 letters

I came across the writer Sara Sheridan via Normblog (see the blogroll on the right), not having read any of her published works so far.  But that's not the point; the point is that in addition to being a bestselling author of historical novels, she is also part of a writer's collective called '26'.  They engage in lots of different writing projects, which in themselves sound wonderful and well worth a visit to their website.  More pertinently, their most recent project is in conjunction with London Design week, called 26Treasures and running at the V&A from 18th September.  Each writer has been allocated a treasure and invited to write 62 words in any style or format, reflecting on that object.

Sara Sheridan has written a poem entitled 'On a Plate' about this beautiful object...



which dates from Southwark 1653 and was made as a marriage gift to...who knows? 

The exhibition runs from 18-26th September.  Somehow, even though time is tight right now, I suspect it will be well worth a visit.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Book, Books, Books

The eagerly anticipated opening of Woolfson & Tay, independent bookshop, gallery & cafe finally took place yesterday and BM was there - alas, sans camera!  However SE1 took theirs and they have a full report, also interestingly a picture of Val Shawcross with the proprietors ( but perhaps that's for another day).

Anyway from what BM observed, this deserves to be a huge success.  Lots of lovely, interesting and diverse books including a children's section.  Also ceramics, paper products and other non-book gifts as well as really tempting cakes, which going by the number of people sitting in the cafe, seemed to be going down rather well. 

Looking forward to a quieter explore during the week.

In praise of...Roald Dahl

The children love him and all of his works.  Me, I confess that prior to motherhood my only encounter with him was watching, not reading, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory.  Shameful admission but there it is.  His work just didn't cross my reading radar as a child.  The past 5 years or so have made up for that and I think we have been through the entire canon of children's books.

'Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl' by Donald Sturrock was the book of the week on Radio 4 last week and I urge you to listen again on the iplayer via the link while you can.   Although it had been on in the background, I wasn't really paying attention on Monday or Tuesday but Wednesday's reading stopped me in my tracks.  It's another reminder as if it were needed, that people live very complex lives and even the most outwardly gilded have personal tragedy of the worst kind to bear and in this case, overcome. 

Now, I may have to buy the book!

In which...reality bites

Apologies for the radio silence over the past week; life has caught up with BM a bit and the job search took precedence over pretty much everything else.  Anyway, happy to say that it looks as if it paid off and things might be looking up for the BM exchequer very soon.

These past few months have been a strange mixture of anxious 'in-between jobs' time and re-charging the batteries, after what's been a fairly tumultuous 10 years or so.  Back then BM and BH were both young professionals about town, me expecting a baby, he starting a political career.  Like everything in life maybe, we could have had no idea how those 10 years would pan out.  
Flash forward to 2010, both pushing mid-forties, when even the most clear-headed tend to take stock, and what does the balance sheet look like?   Well I suppose it depends on how you measure these things.  In pure financial terms, it's pretty bad, particularly if you compare us with our contemporaries from 2000 who continued to pursue a legal career.    In non-monetary terms we have packed a lot into those 10 years, met people we would not otherwise have met including the famous and not so famous and experienced another way of living beyond a concentration on the self.  And we have a lovely family, which I treasure above anything else.

The way I see it, I have another 20 years or so of useful working life left ahead of me and (and yes I am aware of just how cliched this sort of mid-life assessment is) so it's important, within the constraints of family finances, to make them count by ensuring that the work is meaningful and life-enhancing, instead of soul destroying.   At the moment that might just be possible.  That's the plan anyway, and I have to have a plan, however flaky. 

But if the last 10 years have taught me anything, it's that things don't always go according to plan - or at least plan A.  I've not worked out a plan B yet but I'll keep you posted.  

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Under the arches

34 Maltby Street, 104 Druid Street and 1 The Ropewalk are the sites of a Saturday morning 'collective' opening, by businesses which usually carry on their wholesale trade out of these arches, to the great retail public and today BM and the children went along for a look.

This is what we found...



As always, the coffee from Monmouth was delicious and now no need to hoof up to Borough Market and queue with the tourists - hurrah!  Also tempting pastries on sale and next door, cheeses from Neal's Yard as well as cream, ice-cream and other tantalising dairy things.

Staying with the pavement, despite there being a building site adjacent, we followed the arches along, past the Lassco premises to The Ropewalk, where the 'Kernel' micro-brewery is based as well as 'The Ham & Cheese Company'.   The children thought it was quite an adventure with the trains rumbling past overhead and the industrial feel of the area.  A  little further along, we found Fern Verrow Vegetables and bought some lovely tomatoes and apples.


I understand that the Saturday opening from 9-2pm has been going for at least a couple of months and I wish them well.  What with the Farmer's Market in B Square, we are a little spoiled for choice I suppose.  For what it's worth, BM will be supporting this little project, simply because these people have (literally) invested in the local area, creating jobs and revitalising an otherwise quiet/dead area, certainly at weekends.

Threading our way back along to Monmouth, it was beginning to get quite busy.  The setting is on a different scale but the exercise reminded me of how Borough Market used to feel before it turned into a tourist, gourmet-fast-food destination.   


 (All photos by the junior newshound).

Friday, 3 September 2010

Lionel stirs things up a bit...again

Lionel Shriver (did I mention she is virtually my next-door neighbour?) has a piece in today's Guardian about the relative lack of prominence and praise afforded to women writers of literary fiction, as compared to that enjoyed by men.  In particular she is irritated by the level of praise lavished - really not too strong a word in this case - on Jonathan Franzen for his new book, 'Freedom'.  The praise may well be deserved but it's fascinating that he is lauded for writing a book essentially about a family which as LS relays,  the NY Times Book Review described in breathless prose as "family as microcosm or micro-history". 

Perhaps the flaw in Lionel's (did you notice that, first name terms?) piece today is that (other than a slight reference to Annie Proulz) she fails to list any women writers who deserve equal if not greater praise for a body of work just as literary as that of Jonathan Franzen's.  

Let me fill in that gaping glaring hole with Anne Tyler.  She has devoted her career to writing about the everyday lives of ordinary people in an extraordinary way.  Although she is admired, she is not feted perhaps in the way some male writers are - I'm thinking of the near reverence afforded to Don DeLillo,  Thomas Pynchon and Philip Roth. 

I'm not the only one who feels that Anne Tyler is underrated - this is a link to Norm's archive piece on her writing which is much more succinct than I could ever be and for what it's worth I agree with his assessment of her work to date.   Enjoy!

Making the most of the final few days of school holiday

At last, the weather has picked up!  For BM and crew this means daily trips to parks near and far to get lots of exercise, catch up with friends before school starts again and generally enjoy the sunshine as much as possible.

First up (and this will convince anyone not living in London how poor weather conditions really were) I give you this...


A giant plane tree felled by the wind in Spa Gardens over the weekend!  Photo taken by junior newshouund who is already thinking of stories for his Autumn school newsletter and plans to pursue this one further by interviewing the manager of the play centre.

There was no evidence of damage to any of the lovely trees in Dulwich park which we visited on Tuesday; in fact it turned out to be much warmer than anticipated and friends re-united, the children hired bikes from here

(photo via www.londonrecumbents.co.uk  -  I promise you it was not raining!)

Wednesday we were back in familiar territory in Southwark Park and running all the usual pre-school errands. 

Thursday to a Bloomsbury private garden square to play tennis with Granny and today, a visit to Broadstairs, one of BM's favourite seaside places.  The signs were not good as we arrived...greeted by grey skies and spots of rain but it brightened up and so did we.  It's got such a lovely Victorian feel to it,



There are of course beach huts but I especially like the built-in changing cubicles, accessed via central and side stone stairways (which look like 1930s additions) from the promenade or...the lift!  Isn't this just gorgeous?  I didn't find out whether it is still in use.



Lovely sandy horseshoe-shaped beach and up on the promenade the most charming houses with regency-style (I think) railings and balconies


Dickens called Broadstairs his favourite watering hole in Kent and you can see why on a sunny day at least.


Didn't take a photo of the wonderful well known ice-cream shop - noticed the name had changed again though and it seemed to me that the range of flavours was less than I remembered.  Had to leave by 3 so that B husband could make it back for the England game at Wembley but no complaints from the children who slept all the way home! 

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Wet, wet, wet

C'mon, what's happened to the weather, it's supposed to be August!  This is what it's been like in London...



The garden is positively verdant ...but that's not right in August, right?  Turns out the Shetland Islands have been the sunniest place to be in the UK this August with Lerwick enjoying 136 hours of sunshine compared to the next nearest of 100 hours in Wittering, Cambridgeshire.  Unlike poor old Bournemouth, which had a lot less sunshine and a bit too much of this...

 

Still, 10 days or so to go until the children go back to school - there's got to be one good day in between, right? 

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Reading update

As I suspected, the Kate Atkinson series of Jackson Brodie detective novels are unputdownable page-turners...with the result that I have now read 3, with only the newly published 'Started early, took my dog' to go, which will have to wait until it's a paperback !

In a neat piece of serendipity, I am now reading 'American Wife' by Curtis Sittenfeld, which was Kate Atkinson's favourite book of 2009.   It was one of those books I picked up at a church fete for 25p and promptly forgot about...until yesterday.   It's almost as if there was a plan!

Empowering Parents, Empowering communities

Nice piece in the Guardian today about this successful parenting project in Southwark, although to be fair it is only at the half-way stage.  Worth noting too that despite the climate of cuts facing the Authority, a decision was made to fund the research project jointly with Guy's & St Thomas' NHS Trust earlier this year.   It's also worth reading the terms of reference for the study which interestingly point out that the facilitators are parent peers - so the whole process becomes a virtuous circle.    Watch this space for the final judgements of the research project, published probably September 2011.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Childhood horizons

I've been mulling this over recently and have come to no firm conclusion either way: when I was growing up, in fact let's broaden this and say, to people of my generation (ie early forties now) growing up in the sixties and seventies,  the world beyond our families, school and places we might visit on our holidays seemed like a vast unexplored place of wonder - at least it did to me.  Sure, I read about other countries and learned about them for the purpose of passing examinations but apart from some descriptive prose and a few textbook photographs, foreign travel was largely unknown.

Then in the 1980s, with the freedom which came with living away from home and earning a living came the possibility of travel to these mysterious places (via an Inter-rail card to begin with).  Before the advent of no-frills airline travel, believe me exploring Europe felt like an adventure in itself!  Continents beyond Europe seemed to me at least, to be tantalisingly unexplored places but the time involved and the cost of travel was at that time prohibitive.  Those considerations aside however, the world was still full of possibilities and challenges. 

What I'm getting at I suppose is, I wonder how today's children and young people view the world, when those opportunities for exploration are so different.  For a start, they could virtually (in the truest sense) visit their destination without ever leaving home.   In addition, with the idea of gap years so prevalent that adults my age now want in on it, what is there left to do that is novel and because of that, is it possible that they are therefore driven to take more risks to achieve novelty than our generation might have done?

I don't know myself but it must be a challenge to any younger person to think of new ways to define themselves other than 'travelling' to South America or Asia or Africa, when those trips are so well prescribed and described by the countless others who have been there before them and broadcast their experiences online.  Has the internet, in other words made it harder for people to experience travel to foreign lands as a true novelty and something capable of wonder ?  

Or maybe I'm looking at this from the wrong angle.  Is it possible that the lack of novelty in that sort of travel might prompt a new interest in space exploration?  The final frontier, as a famous Vulcan put it.

Whatever happened to...Lloyd Cole & The Commotions

From 'Rattlesnakes', another album soundtrack of my youth...




Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Tony Blair's donation to the Royal British Legion

Am I the only one who thought when hearing of this:  gosh what a generous thing to do?  I'm beginning to think I was.

It seems that nothing, even this donating all of his advance and all of the worldwide earnings of the book post publication, will satisfy either the left or right-wing media.  In Comment is Free today, Hadley Freeman writes a price which is pure fodder for the 'Bliar Bliar pants on fire' brigade.  Over at the Telegraph,  more of the same from a different angle.

I'm tired of the constant references to an 'illegal' war.  Pay attention folks, Lord Goldsmith the Attorney General at the time, gave the decision to go to war the green light and then (here's the important bit)  Parliament voted for it.  So enough with the accusations of illegality, war crimes etc.  You may disagree with   Lord Goldsmith's advice and question its provenance, which is what Parliament was there to do on your behalf (and indeed the Chilcot Inquiry is examining), but fundamentally according to the rule of law in this country, it was a legal war.

While I may have a healthy sense of scepticism about political motives generally, nevertheless one cannot live a life constantly second-guessing and therefore I am inclined to accept that Mr Blair acted in the best interests of this country and Iraq throughout his time as PM.    That doesn't always mean that he made the right decisions but I do not autmatically infer into those decisions some sort of dark, ulterior motive as the conspiracy theorists would have it, connected to America and its imperialist ambitions. 

The sort of revisionism I see now from so called leading lights of the Labour movement and elsewhere, make me frankly sick.  Fine if they were opposed to the war initially, made that publicly known and importantly, voted against it.  But many of them didn't and what they are doing now smacks of rank opportunism rather than any kind of real leadership.

So back to Mr Blair - he has by all accounts done a very generous thing and it also appears that he put a great deal of thought into the donation, with negotiations going on over several months.  Why seek ulterior motives in that gesture ?  Is it not enough to accept (and God knows he has taken plenty of flak for it too) that he has made plenty of money from other enterprises as his entitled to do,  post public office and now wishes to make no profit from his recollection of events during that period in office?   Let's see what Mr Brown does with the proceeds of his memoirs and for that matter, I wonder what  Mr Tony Benn did with the proceeds of his voluminous diaries or indeed the many others who have profited handsomely from their time in public life.

On a more basic level, surely in order to function as human beings and as a society, we have to believe in the intrinsic goodness of other human beings, and it worries me that the response to Mr Blair's announcement was not one of welcome and thanks (apart from the Royal British Legion) but suspicion and almost derision.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Holiday reading

I made the (understandable) mistake of assuming that the weather would be atrocious as usual and therefore did not give much thought to packing some decent reading material before we left.   The result was that I:-

1.  Finished 'Any Human Heart' by William Boyd.
2.  Read 'Case Histories' by Kate Atkinson
3.  Read Irish versions of the Sunday papers, Times, Observer and Telegraph
4.  Read Colm Toibin in LRB on Catholic Church

From this I have learnt that William Boyd is very clever and book clubbers, sorry I missed the discussion on this because I can now see that it would have been interesting.

Case Histories was a find because it's good of course but also it's the first of a series involving Jackson Brodie, private investigator.  I love it when I discover something I like and that there's more to come.  I suspect that the author has constructed Brodie as a sort of fantasy ideal man but what's also interesting about that is that the stories are about to be filmed, and Jason Isaacs has been cast in the lead role.   Okay, he's easy on the eye but there's always a difficulty when a prose character becomes alive on screen.   I suppose we'll have to wait and see and in the meantime, I can now look forward to 2 more books in the series!

Irish papers and radio so far as I could tell, were full of stories of petty and not so petty political corruption - no change there then.    As long as I have been aware of Irish politics, there was always a whiff or stench from Dublin.  What's different about the stories last week was the fact that corruption had been uncovered in local councils up and down the country.  Certainly no poverty of ambition on the part of those involved, in the scale of what passed for political favours.

Finally Colm Toibin on the Pope wearing Prada  - that's not a joke, he actually does.  Read it on the ferry coming back so technically still part of the holiday and it did take my mind off the crossing.    CT carries on the debate that Andrew Sullivan and others have been having for some time now about the complicity of the Church (ie the institution) in the abuse scandals which seem to be never-ending not least because of the Church's badly botched PR operation.    Beautifully written piece whatever about the subject matter.
Pretty heavy going really.    I need something human and lighter over the next couple of weeks - must find the new Barbara Trapido or maybe Anne Tyler.  Will keep you posted.

No wi-fi, no cry

So there was no wi-fi, not much of a TV signal, a satellite signal which came and went and a house full of 4 adults and 5 children under 10...uh oh, recipe for disaster you might think.  But you'd be wrong...because we also had that rarest of ingredients in an Irish holiday...sunshine!  Lots of glorious, life-affirming rays of warm sunshine!  Whole days were spent at the beach and it rained once, for 10 minutes. 

I would just point out that over the years I think we have earned this week of benign weather, having endured holidays where it rained every day, throughout the day.  Driving through Easkey, Co Sligo 3 years ago (which was flooded in August) to get an ice-cream, is seared in the memory...

Never mind, this week may have made up for that.  This is the view from the house where we stayed, overlooking the River Suir


and this is the beach at Duncannon, Co Wexford where things got a little competitive with the sand castles





close up of the houses and church coming up



They got a bit carried away on account of the sand sculpting competition elsewhere on the beach.

BM took the opportunity to catch up on some reading but more of that later.  For now, without turning into Maeve Binchy, it's fair to say that this was one of the best holidays we have had and certainly the best in Ireland.    

BTW, the lady who owns 'The Pines' where we stayed is thinking of selling up, Euros 450k if anyone is interested...

Saturday, 7 August 2010

BM...On the road again

Okay, so there was a slight miscalculation with the estimated length of journey from Bermondsey to Pembroke dock...we left at 05.30hrs, assuming a couple of stops along the way, ETA 13.00hrs.  In fact, we had the stops and still got to Pembroke by 11.30.  There may have been some resentment expressed about the ungodly hour BM required everyone to get up and out but hey - we were first in line in the boarding queue! 

We are in the (less than) sunny south-east.  It rained 3 times on the way from Rosslare.  The countryside looks suspiciously green and lush.  People are nevertheless defiantly wearing shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops...under raincoats. 

Second contingent from the north-west arrive later today.  On the scale of excitement and anticipation, kids are set to 'dangerously high'.  Further reports to follow, energy and wi-fi permitting.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

BM...out and about

Yesterday we visited Bradford-upon-Avon - by canal boat or should that be 'launch' ? This is how we travelled


It was a certain person's 70th birthday hence the balloons and gift bags. 
Along the way, we passed by this noble bird



We navigated through this very narrow lock and bridge


and enjoyed the friendly atmosphere 

 
Lovely and sloow way to travel.  Lots of fun with the steering.   There were no accidents.  Some running alongside on the towpath but no-one fell in.  Remarkable and sort of cheering I suppose, how busy it was on a Tuesday...albeit in August.
   
The birthday person, who is a bit of an expert on all things maritime and inland waterways too, gave a gentle history lesson to the younger generation on the type and variety of canal boats we saw.  Observed the usual courtesy between canalboaters along the waterway, although I suppose given the leisurely pace, it would be hard to pass within 4 inches of another slow-moving boat without saying something friendly.   At least all of ours were friendly.  

 We stopped for lunch at the Lock Inn Cafe (highly recommended) and then executed a neat 18 point turn mid-canal to make our way back to base.  

Lovely day.  Home in Bermondsey by 8.30pm - London traffic is so quiet in August ... 

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

What's happened to...Michael McDonald

Punk didn't happen for BM in the furthest reaches of western Ireland in 1979. Instead this, and other Doobie Brother hits, was part of the soundtrack to my youth...


Sunday, 1 August 2010

A new Whovian in town

Okay so you think you know people:  I mean in the sense that you read their blog and newspaper articles, you link to them in your blog (right hand column) and then out of the blue, comes confirmation that they are in fact also connected to you by the fact of their Whovian status!   I'm talking about Andrew Sullivan, who revealed today (at least it was not previously known to me) that he is and has been a lifelong DW fan.

For those of you who didn't already know, I am surrounded by Dr Who fans/obsessives/followers (delete as appropriate) and it's/his influence pervades our everyday existence in ways you might not be aware of.  For instance, dressing habits of a boy from the age of 3 and a half entirely dictated by DW.  Bear in mind that this was before the revival by Russell T Davis and therefore consisted of recycled beige shorts, cricket sweater and (my) old raincoat, which when it fell apart, was succeeded by a grey John Lewis dressing gown.  That look lasted for almost 2 solid years. (I blame John Lewis, they make them to last...) This was the Peter Davison look you see (with celery stalk).  Not easy to pull off and not the easiest outfit to wear on a beach in 28C heat...Anyway, every sartorial decision made by the boy, now 9, revolves around which Doctor is currently part of his ongoing and very real, fantasy life.  Between that and B Husband's lifelong devotion to Time Lord, I long ago decided to give in and go with it.

But because it is actually very good drama, I have come to admire it too.  Best thing about it for me is that DW is (conventionally) unarmed but wins every time, for reasons which Andrew Sullivan sets out lovingly in his article. I can't link to it because of the Sunday Times paywall, but if you link to his blog on the right, he usually posts his articles there anyway.  Enjoy!  

Bermondsey acoustics

It's a feature of where we live that not only can we hear the roar from the Lion's Den when Millwall are at home, but we can listen in on what's happening at the Carnival Del Pueblo at Burgess Park too...I have to admit I had forgotten it was on until the beat and rap echoed across the Old Kent Road towards this part of Bermondsey.     For those not in the know, Elephant & Castle has the largest population of South American inhabitants in London and today, I suspect, in the UK.   It sounds like they are having a great time!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Early intervention

Yesterday Sarah Teather, Children's Minister at DfE and Ian Duncan Smith Work & Pension Secretary announced the setting up of a new independent commission into early intervention, which aims to ensure that children at greatest risk of multiple disadvantage get the best start in life.   This will be chaired by the Labour MP Graham Allen (who has previously worked with IDS on a a similar joint review entitled "Early Intervention: Good parents, great kids, better citizens" in 1998).

The earlier report is well worth reading.   Essentially, they suggested that 'early' intervention means within the first 3 years of a child's life.  The earlier report was of course written when IDS was in opposition, but for this Commission to do a further review now interests me for 2 reasons.

Firstly, and I have to declare an interest here, Surestart.  The Surestart programme has been running since 1998 but NESS (National Evaluation of SureStart) found that there was little evidence of positive impact from the first part of the programme (and this was after a great deal of public money had been spent).  It was not until the programme switched to Children's Centre provision after 'Every Child Matters' in 2006, that impact was measurable although the evidence is still patchy and the evaluation is ongoing.  It's also worth bearing in mind that Surestart covers children aged 0-5.  ( http://www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/).    

The future of the Surestart programme via Children's Centres has of course been the subject of heated debate over the part few weeks with Ed Balls in particular, suggesting that the Coalition government intends to cut and even abolish it.  But if 'Early Intervention' means anything it means Surestart. 

So I 'm wondering whether we are not seeing, with the setting up of this commission, a first step towards a re-organisation of Surestart, possibly narrowing the age criteria and also I suspect the number and type of programmes offered by Children's Centres.   Speaking both as a parent user and Chair of Govs of a Children's Centre, I have to say I would have no problem with this.  When the money was flush, it was perhaps not a problem that the majority of mums accessing services when I attended as a parent, were just like me ie over 30, middle-class.  But let's be honest - it was not set up for people like us.  

Secondly and this is simply an observation, made elsewhere too, that Ian Duncan Smith looks and sounds very different to how he did when he led the Conservative Party.   It renews my faith in human nature to observe how his views seem so entirely different now and that, no longer having any ambition to lead the party or the country, he is freed up to actually make a difference worth making, using research-based evidence and not simply ideology. 

My question I suppose is, was he always like this and was our view of him simply distorted by the prism of media coverage OR following his departure as Leader, did he undergo his own Damascene coversion on the Easterhouse estate in Glasgow?  Either way, he seems an altogether more human politician now and that is surely a positive thing and leads me to be cautiously optimistic about the future of Surestart.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

What's not to love?

Dave or Ed Milibandwagon?

Not sure either of them have managed to jump-start it yet which is why it's not exactly electrifying.

Except several people seem to believe that the future destiny of the Lib Dems may well depend on who wins the most boring contest in electoral history, this September.  John Rentoul is not alone in hoping for a David win believing that surely Labour would not be so dim as to elect Ed.  Or would they?  UNITE is a big, powerful union with quite deep pockets.  That buys a lot of direct mailing to members reminding them, many of whom work in local authorities delivering the public services about to be cut and live in the council housing which will not now be improved because 'there is no money'  - the modern mantra - who fights their corner.  Note how they are also backing Ken for the London Mayoral nomination....

David would be the smart choice for Labour but these are unpredictable times.  People are worried and cannot be relied upon to do the sensible thing, preferring perhaps instead to invest in a Leader who has a track record of street-fighting (in the political sense).  Athough he has managed to avoid too close scrutiny over it, it's worth remembering that Ed M. presided over the worst of the Blair/Brown war years with his close allies, Charlie Whelan and Damian McBride in the Brown bunker at No.11.

Current thinking appears to be that Clegg and Cameron will strike some sort of electoral pact before the next parliamentary elections, assuming the coalition survives that long.  Sandra Gidleigh, on the Week in Westminster on Saturday, probably speaks for many in the party when she said that unless there was evidence the Lib Dems were having a serious impact on policy and law-making they would be 'toast' at the next election, as referred to by Matthew Norman today.    Which is where the debate over Dave/Ed comes in.  David M would be closer to Clegg than Ed although Ed has appeal to many on the left of the party.  Backed by the Unions who are squaring up for the fight of their generation however, would Ed even be interested in finding common ground wth the LibDems?

Why do I care?  Hard to explain really, except that politics gets under your skin so that even now, when we are no longer affected by it day to day, it's impossible to ignore...or maybe it's like a scab that you can't help but pick...either way, it is compulsive.  

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Rev

Is this not the best (dark) comedy on TV right now?  This episode was particularly good but I have been unable to track down what for me, was the best scene ie the denouement between Adam, our eponymous hero and Darren, the happy clappy interloper with accompanying smoothie bar, in which Adam explains why clergy like Darren, with their absolute certainties, frighten him because faith and belief is and should be about doubt and overcoming that doubt.

Never mind, this is a clip of the wonderful Archdeacon and Adam discussing repairs to the broken church 'rose' window.

Monday, 26 July 2010

The Beauty Queen of Leenane - a review

BM missed this the first time round 15 years ago, when it made the writer Martin McDonagh a star and led to his subsequent success with "In Bruges" amongst other things.  Anyway, this play is where that success  began and it opened in 1995 at the Royal Court, around the time that another Irish play, "Dancing at Lughnasa" by Brian Friel also took the London stage by storm.  Both came at a time when modern Ireland was riding the Celtic Tiger and loving it; ostentatious consumption was almost de rigeur.  How times have changed.

This a terrific production, in no small part because the malevolent matriarch, Mag Folan is played so beautifully by Rosaleen Linehan, a legend of the Irish theatre.  For those who are interested in these things, Rosaleen is the mother of Graham Linehan, writer of 'Father Ted' and 'The IT crowd'.

Fifteen years ago, many Irish people watching this play would have shrugged off the references to emigration and employment hopelessness, but I was struck watching it, how those issues seem all too relevant today.  I wouldn't wish to leave the impression that it's all doom and gloom - far from it.  It's very, very funny and moving and incredibly tense throughout.

The play is on at the Young Vic until Aug 21st so book now - if there are any tickets left!

I leave you with a photograph of Leenane, not so many miles from where BM grew up, and a place of such utter loveliness that anything else I say will be superfluous.

(Photo: John Miranda 2010)

Poor neglected blog...

BM has been UNBELIEVABLY busy over the past 2 weeks or so, hence the shocking lack of posts and general neglect.  But that's not to say that interesting snippets to share with you, dear reader have not forced their way into my crowded consciousness during the break - au contraire - as ever, and no doubt I am not alone in this, items for the blog and my failure to actually blog them, have contributed to the ever growing list of things to feel guilty about.  But no more, I'm back and ready to roll!  

For those who might not normally visit the right hand list of interesting places to pass the time, I would point out that I have made some changes.  Some sadly have gone and others, arrived.   A Bloomsbury Life in particular is like nourishment for the visual soul, with pictues like this one of the work of UK guerilla gardener and artist,  Anna Garforth.  Why haven't I seen more of this and how come an American lady (much as I worship her) is the one drawing attention to her work ?

and up close...


(All photos Anna Garforth via A Bloomsbury Life)

You see...it's a living thing...moss, suddenly beautiful.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

All the fun of the Fete

This was before the crowds gathered and is meant to show our lovely 'Bermondsey in Bloom' bunting on display outside River Room


and near the playhouse.



Then....things got a bit busy at the BBQ so despite the fact that literally, hundreds of people attended, games were played, faces painted, bouncy castle bounced on and loads of recycled toys and books recycled again - I have no further pictures of the day!  Except to say it was not as sedate as this, much earlier Bermondsey Fete



By Joris Hofnagel c.1569
(This is being indulgent because I have as you may recall, used this image before!  Click for greater detail)

Food as a political issue

During the recent local election in Southwark, Labour made a pledge to introduce free school meals to all primary school children across the borough.  This was unfunded.  They probably didn't expect to win (they weren't the only ones, sadly).  Anyway, they did and now they are trying to find ways to fulfil this pledge or maybe a way of backing out of it while saving face...

Primary schools in Southwark are being invited to take part in a local pilot beginning in September.  Schools taking part will choose 1 year group, those children will be offered free school meals and the school will be offered additional support in working with children, school staff and parents/carers on understanding the benefits of healthy meals on long-term health and wellbeing and maintenance of a healthy weight.  The findings will then be analysed alongside the results of 3 ongoing national pilots (in Newham, Wolverhampton & Durham) to inform the roll-out to all schools in the borough.

Several things about this idea trouble me.  Firstly, the 3 national pilots have been up and running for 1 year already and are being co-ordinated by the DfE, with research ongoing by NCSR , into not simply the issue of obesity but also behaviour, concentration and academic attainment.  The Southwark approach seems a bit of a stop-gap, 'on the hoof' idea with no real focus.  Why do this when a national, properly funded study is mid-way along and will report its findings about 18 months from now?   How is the study of 1 year group per school going to, for instance, inform the Council about the capital investment necessary to enable that school to offer free school meals to all its pupils?   It just seems a bit pointless - as if they have to be seen to be acting on their pledge, so they have come up with this.   In the meantime, it will be increasingly obvious that it is unaffordable and they will be able to say that they tried but the Coalition government policies made it impossible.   

Maybe the real question is why, after 13 years of a Labour government the key measure of child poverty ie FSM take-up, is relatively unchanged in Southwark.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

A child of the universe

Been a bit bogged down with work and other commitments over the past few days hence the lack of posts.  In addition, although lots of issues have prompted an inner debate, (eg Roman Polanski affair, Zenna Atkins' comments on incompetent teachers) to be completely honest I'm not sure that I have anything fresh to add by blogging about them.  Although they do make me cross. 

So, I thought instead I would share with you the site linked to on the right, Sagan's Brain, which at times like this when I am slightly preoccupied with the everyday and stressed about things I cannot control,  allows me to escape out into the wider universe....and wonder.......

When I've caught up with what the universe has been up to, I feel a fresh sense of perspective dawning.  Although I've always been interested in space and science, Sagan's Brain is the first site I've come across which is quite accessible to a non-scientist.  And by way of final recommendation, the younger Dr Who aficionado of the household is also a fan.  What greater recommendation is there?

Monday, 12 July 2010

Bermondsey (Square)'s new bookshop

So, it's official:  Woolfson & Tay, Cafe Gallery and Bookshop is opening in Bermondsey Square on 11th September.   Good to see that it's an independent bookseller and it's got a full programme of Autumn events to look forward to.  

Is this further confirmation of Bermondsey's improving profile?  Yes, I know it's at Bermondsey Square which is hardly The Blue, but still...the last nearest bookshop was Riverside at Shad Thames but that became another coffee shop several years ago, leaving just the Riverside Bookshop in Hays Galleria.  

I wonder if they'd be interested in some outreach work with local schools...?

Seed Cathedral update

Not only has the Seed Cathedral won the RIBA Lubetkin Prize 2010, it is also turning into one of the most popular of the pavilions at the Shanghai Expo 2010, passing the 2m visitor mark a few weeks ago.

This is a just another excuse for me to post more pictures of this beautiful construction/apparition on the landscape...





(click on this one for greater detail of the seed head)
I think it's inspiring that, at the end of the Expo, the rods will be distributed to schools throughout China and the UK...just like dandelion seeds.