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 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 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.